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Speaking to the trees

Trees and plants always fascinate me. When the U.S. environmentalist Derrick Jensen says in his Endgame that trees talk to him and he listens to trees, I have no difficulty understanding it, because I too listen to trees and feel that they talk to me about the sustainable symbiotic relationship of the natural world. But that is imagination, seeing the trees through the eyes and mind of an environmentalist or rather a lover of Nature. I have never thought trees can communicate with each other.

Therefore, when I read The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, in which the German forester Peter Wohlleben “draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families”, I have been happy to see that trees do have their own language, they communicate with each other, they even take care of their young and help the sick and the weak by sharing nutrients through their roots, and they literally scream when water is not available and the thirst becomes insufferable!

Trees do have not only their own language but their own brain and intelligence too. They count time, they feel pain, and they sense danger and communicate the presence of danger to others. It is quite interesting and engrossing to read about the defensive mechanism of the umbrella thorn acacia trees that grow in the African savannah. When giraffes feed on the trees, they pump toxic substances into their leaves and give off a warning gas that enables the neighbouring trees sense the impending danger and the forewarned trees too pump toxins into their leaves that drive the giraffes off!

In the chapter titled The Language of Trees, Wohlleben says: “Beeches, spruce, and oaks all register pain as soon as some creatures start nibbling on them... The saliva of each species is different and the tree can match the saliva to the insect... The fact that trees can recognise saliva is, incidentally, evidence for yet another skill they must have — sense of taste.”

The techniques of the trees, which have both male and female flowers, to avoid inbreeding; and the “timeout” the oaks and beeches take to get rid of the herbivores that eat their seeds, will make even human intelligence inconsequential. The trees in colder countries hibernate just as animals do. And Wohhlleben proves that “trees need their rest just as much as we do, and sleep deprivation is as detrimental to trees as it is to us.”

In my childhood, I have often observed the embankments of our village creek and marvelled at the service of the interconnected roots of the trees that maintained the embankments intact. But here is the new knowledge. Wohlleben says: “If you look at roadside embankments, you might be able to see how trees connect with each other through their root systems... It appears that nutrient exchange and helping neighbours in times of need is the rule, and this leads to the conclusion that forests are superorganisms with interconnections.”

What I find most interesting in The Hidden Life of Trees is that it negates the Darwinian theory of the survival of the fittest. Wohlleben says that the “trees would just shake their heads—or rather their crowns” against the notion of the survival of the fittest.

He convincingly tells us that the trees can have even individual characters! And the book speaks about the learning of the trees from ‘tree school’, about their social security sense, and even of their love and mating.

With our self destructive anthropocentrism and the unsatiated greed which is an integral part of the anthropocentric outlook, we are not educated enough to understand the meaning the following sentence in The Hidden Life of Trees conveys: “When you know that trees experience pain and have memories and that tree parents live together with their children, then you can no longer just chop down and disrupt their lives.”

We think that only we the humans do have emotions, dreams, pains joys and ecstasy. But Wohlleben says: “We are now discovering that animals share many human emotions. And not just animals, which are closely related to us, but even insects such as fruit flies. Researchers in California have discovered that even these tiny creatures might dream.”

To understand trees and plants do have memories and even insects can dream, we have to unlearn many anthropocentric thoughts we have learnt.

lscvsuku@gmail.com


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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 2:52:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/speaking-to-the-trees/article35117780.ece

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