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Can You Hear the Trees Talking?

Can You Hear the Trees Talking? Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest

Peter Wohlleben, Translated by Shelley Tanaka
Greystone Kids
2019
84 pp.
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We often think of trees when the leaves change color in the fall or when devastating forest fires, disease, or invasive species lead to widescale loss. Few of us take the time to consider, however, the many parallels that exist between trees and more mobile creatures. Trees can form communities, in which elders nurture and educate the young. Collectively, they can moderate the local temperature and humidity, store water, and protect each other. Isolated trees may mature faster than trees surrounded by others of the same species, but this accelerated growth can harm the lone tree’s longevity. In Can You Hear the Trees Talking?, Peter Wohlleben provides a fascinating and detailed guide to these less appreciated aspects of tree life.

Trees use senses akin to taste and smell to detect and deter predators and alert neighboring trees. However, much of the communication in a forest occurs belowground. Neighboring tree roots of the same species share nutrients and pass along messages about local threats. Fungi that live off dead trees or leaves send out a network of fine threads that act like a highway for chemical messages. But this relay service comes at a cost: Fungi can demand up to a third of the sugar that a tree produces, and they will sometimes share that sugar with trees of other species to aid their own preservation.

Wohlleben wrote this book as a young reader’s edition of The Hidden Life of Trees and has done a remarkable job ensuring that each page tells a complete story, answering questions ranging from how trees know when it is spring to why trees are important in the city. Activities and quizzes appear throughout the book to engage readers of all ages.

About the author

The reviewer is a senior editor at Science.