Ray Grigg

The Intelligence of Trees – Part 2 of 4

A different scale of time accounts for one of the reasons we have difficulty understanding the intelligence of trees.

We interpret events with reference to our human sense of normal.

Comparatively, trees seem to respond slowly, their life cycles sometimes approaching millennia — in the words of the German forester, Peter Wholleben, they “exceed the human attention span.”

They feed on the raw material we call dirt and produce their energy by the perplexing process of photosynthesis.

As very different creatures, it’s not surprising we haven’t been able to understand them.

Because trees are “rooted” in one place, they have devised and used their own ways to relate and communicate with their surroundings — ways that happen to be outside the range of our usual perception. And why should they behave as we do?

This expectation is one of our major shortcomings.

Children, with their special innocent wisdom, recognize and accept trees as living beings with purposeful and deliberate behaviour, and so do Peter Wholleben and Suzanne Simard. In the beech forests of Germany, Wholleben documents parent trees “nursing” their offspring.

The young saplings, attempting to grow beneath the shadowed canopy with 97 per cent of the sunlight already consumed, are kept alive and healthy with sugars and nutrients provided by their parents through interconnecting root structures — “nursing their babies,” is Wholleben’s expression. When the parents eventually die, the saplings are ready to succeed them as strong and able inheritors of the available space in the forest.

One tree “caring” for another makes scientists feel uncomfortable, particularly when the paradigm of competitiveness is the one we have been using to explain how trees and forests grow. But Wholleben has evidence of trees sharing space and nutrition, of neighbours feeding sugars to nearby stumps to keep them alive.

In a beech forest he has examined the living stump of a tree that fell about 400 years ago, still alive from the sustenance provided from nearby trees.

And it’s possible to find occasional fir stumps, fed for so long by neighbouring trees, that the bark has grown up over the severed wood to heal the wound — the base of the amputated tree is still alive without a functioning trunk, branches or needles. Science, of course, as part of its effort to be objective, is averse to using words that have an emotional connotation.

The behaviour in one category of living beings, particularly anthropomorphizing, is not to be confused with the behaviour in another.

So our sensitive response to touch, sunlight, heat and water becomes, for trees, the technical terms of thigmotropism, heliotropism, thermotropism and hydrotropism.

But a response is a response. And behind the different words is the implication that trees have some kind of sentience or awareness. This, of course, is the point being made by Wholleben and Simard.

Of significance, Wholleben is not some unrealistic dreamer.

He conducted about 25 years of scientific research in Canada’s West Coast rainforests, confirming the claims in his book, The Hidden Life of Trees.

And Suzanne Simard, the eminent forest ecologist from UBC, has created her own stir in academic circles.

Part 3 of 4 next week.

Just Posted

VIDEO: Mowi launches $30-million vessel to treat farmed salmon for sea lice

Freshwater treatment an improvement but fish farms should be removed from sea, says conservationist

City of Campbell River opens the call for food trucks downtown this summer

City will use pilot project to determine the future of food trucks in the downtown core

Deadline looming for North Island College scholarship applications

Students have until April 24 to apply for a record number of… Continue reading

Campbell River Skating Club wraps up another great season

‘We could not have possibly asked for a more encouraging year to continue to build on’

BC Ferries to pilot selling beer and wine on select routes

Drinks from select B.C. breweries and VQA wineries to be sold on Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen route

VIDEO: Alberta man creates world’s biggest caricature

Dean Foster is trying to break the world record for a radio show contest

Chaos at the ferry terminal for people heading from Vancouver to the Island

Easter crowds create backlog at Tsawwassen ferry terminal

B.C. RCMP receive application for Police Cat Services

RCMP announced the launch of the Police Cat Services unit as an April fools joke

Kirkland Signature veggie burgers recalled due to possible metal fragments

Recalled products came in 1.7 kg packages with a best before date of Apr. 23, 2019

Parents of 13 who tortured children get life after hearing victims

One of their daughters fled their home and pleaded for help to a 911 operator

Flooding, climate change force Quebecers to rethink relationship with water

Compensation for victims of recurring floods limit to 50% of a home’s value, or a maximum of $100,000

Storms blast South, where tornadoes threaten several states

9.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia at a moderate risk of severe weather

Private cargo ship brings Easter feast to the space station

There are three Americans two Russians and one Canadian living on the space station

Notre Dame rector: “Computer glitch” possible fire culprit

The fire burned through the lattice of oak beams supporting the monument’s vaulted stone ceiling

Most Read