The Hidden Life of Trees

Suntrap Adult Book Review: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben 

(Published by Greystone Books, 2018. Also available as an Audiobook)

When you walk through the woodland or city streets, do you ever wonder what secrets the trees hold? What is the story of their life and what can we learn from it? Or perhaps, in the hurry of modern life, these sentinels of our landscape are overlooked. In the Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben takes the reader on an amazing journey into the world of trees. Even those who are familiar with woods and trees will be fascinated by what they discover as they get ‘under the bark’ of these remarkable organisms. 

Did you know that trees can communicate with one another, to coordinate flowering or warn of danger; or respond to attacks from predators by changing the taste of their leaves and calling for pest control? Were you aware that trees support their community through their roots and that a living spruce tree has been aged at over 5000 years?! 

Through the course of the book, Wohlleben explains in depth, the lifecycle of trees, their remarkable survival strategies and their role in the forest ecosystem. (For example, Suntrap visitors may be intrigued to find out how trees help to raise fire salamanders in the wild!) At every stage, Wohlleben uncovers the processes involved; illustrated by recent scientific discoveries and personal experience as a forest manger. Wohlleben also highlights just how vital functioning woodland ecosystems are for our survival, far beyond a simple carbon-oxygen exchange: From creating local climate and generating all inland rainfall to acting as a giant pollution filter.

While The Hidden Life of Trees covers scientific insights, it is written in an easy-reading, conversational style. Descriptions are both accurate and engaging, with good explanations of the science and a dash of humour. It is clear that Wohlleben wants his audience to warm to trees through better understanding and he draws many analogies to human life; comparing tree communities and upbringing to our own. For the philosophical reader, countless lessons can be drawn from how trees thrive as individuals and communities, which they can apply to their own situation. 

This book is for anyone with an interest in trees, forests and the natural world in general; whether academically minded or just curious. It will spark their childhood wonder of discovery and bring into sharp focus, the irreplaceable value of our natural habitats.  A walk among trees will never be the same after reading this fascinating book.