A british Columbia rainforest, whereby Douglas firs soar much more than 160 feet, supports 23 indigenous tree species. Diàna Markosian

I’m walking in the Eifel mountains in west Germany, with cathedral-like groves of oak and also beech, and there’s a strange unmoored feeling of start a fairy tale. The tree have end up being vibrantly alive and charged through wonder. They’re connecting with one another, for starters. They’re associated in significant struggles and also death-defying dramas. To with enormousness, they rely on a complicated web the relationships, partnerships and kinship networks.

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Wise old mom trees feed your saplings through liquid sugar and warn the neighbors when hazard approaches. Reckless youngsters take foolhardy dangers with leaf-shedding, light-chasing and also excessive drinking, and also usually pay with their lives. Crown princes wait for the old monarchs to fall, so they have the right to take their place in the full glory the sunlight. It’s every happening in the ultra-slow activity that is tree time, so that what we see is a freeze-frame of the action.

My overview here is a kind of tree whisperer. Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and author, has a rare expertise of the inner life that trees, and also is may be to describe it in accessible, evocative language. The stands an extremely tall and also straight, choose the tree he most admires, and on this cold, clear morning, the blue of his eyes specifically matches the blue the the sky. Wohlleben has devoted his life come the study and also care the trees. That manages this woodland as a nature reserve, and also lives through his wife, Miriam, in a rustic cabin near the remote village of Hümmel.

Now, in ~ the period of 53, that has end up being an i can not qualify publishing sensation. His book The concealed Life that Trees: What castle Feel, just how They Communicate, written at his wife’s insistence, sold much more than 800,000 duplicates in Germany, and also has currently hit the best-seller perform in 11 other countries, consisting of the united States and Canada. (Wohlleben has actually turned his fist to other living points as well, in his Inner Life of Animals, recently issued in translation.)

Wohlleben watch a forest as a superorganism of distinct individuals. A single beech tree can live because that 400 years and also produce 1.8 million beechnuts. Diàna Markosian

A change has been taking place in the scientific knowledge of trees, and also Wohlleben is the very first writer come convey its amazements to a general audience. The latest clinical studies, carried out at well-respected colleges in Germany and also around the world, check what he has actually long suspected from close monitoring in this forest: Trees space far more alert, social, sophisticated—and also intelligent—than us thought.

With his huge green boots crunching v fresh snow, and also a dewdrop recording sunlight top top the guideline of his lengthy nose, Wohlleben takes me come two enormous beech trees cultivation next to each other. He points increase at your skeletal winter crowns, which show up careful no to encroach right into each other’s space. “These two space old friends,” the says. “They are really considerate in share the sunlight, and their root solution are carefully connected. In cases like this, once one dies, the various other usually dies shortly afterward, since they room dependent on each other.”

Since Darwin, we have typically thought of trees as striving, disconnected loners, competing for water, nutrients and also sunlight, with the winners shading out the losers and also sucking lock dry. The timber industry in particular sees forests as wood-producing systems and also battlegrounds for survive of the fittest.

There is now a considerable body of scientific evidence that refutes the idea. It shows instead that trees of the same varieties are communal, and also will often kind alliances through trees of various other species. Forest trees have developed to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and also a collective intelligence similar to pest colony. These soaring columns of living wood draw the eye upward to your outspreading crowns, however the real activity is ensuing underground, just a couple of inches listed below our feet.

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“Some are calling the the ‘wood-wide web,’” states Wohlleben in German-accented English. “All the tree here, and in every forest that is not too damaged, are connected to each various other through underground fungal networks. Tree share water and nutrients v the networks, and likewise use them come communicate. Castle send distress signals around drought and also disease, for example, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their habits when they get these messages.”

Scientists speak to these mycorrhizal networks. The fine, hairlike root advice of tree join together with microscopic fungal filaments to form the basic links the the network, which appears to run as a symbiotic relationship between trees and also fungi, or perhaps an economic exchange. Together a type of fee because that services, the mushroom consume about 30 percent that the sugar that trees photosynthesize from sunlight. The sugar is what fuels the fungi, together they scavenge the floor for nitrogen, phosphorus and other mineral nutrients, which room then absorbed and spend by the trees.