Milwaukee Edition

Tree-Mendous Love

How Trees Care for Each Other


From learning to communicate to physically caring for each other, the secret lives of trees are wildly deep and complex.

“They can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network known as the ‘wood wide web’; and keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots,” reveals Peter Wohlleben, a German forest ranger and author of The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World, released in September.

Upon seeing two soaring beeches in the forest, Wohlleben observes, “These trees are friends. See how the thick branches point away from each other? That’s so they don’t block their buddy’s light. Sometimes, pairs are so interconnected at the roots that when one tree dies, the other one dies, too.”

Wohlleben is rekindling a re-imagination of trees even as many people consider their role is only to supply us with oxygen and wood. Using a mix of scientific research and his own observations from studying forestry and working in the forest since 1987, the man who speaks for the trees does so in decidedly anthropomorphic terms.

“Scientific language removes all the emotion, and people don’t understand it anymore. I use a human language. When I say, ‘Trees suckle their children,’ everyone knows immediately what I mean,” he says.

After years of working for the state forestry administration in Rhineland-Palatinate, and then as a forester managing 3,000 acres of woods near Cologne, he began to understand that contemporary practices were not serving the trees or those that depend on them very well. Artificially spacing out trees ensures that trees get more sunlight and grow faster, but naturalists report that trees exist less like individuals and more as communal beings. By working together in networks and sharing resources, they increase their resistance to potentially damaging influences.

After researching alternative approaches, Wohlleben began implementing some revolutionary concepts. He replaced heavy machinery with horses, stopped using insecticides and let the woods become wilder. The pilot German forest plot went from losing money to posting a profit in two years.

As Dr. Seuss’ tree-loving Lorax says, “I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”

Melissa Breyer, of Brooklyn, NY, is the editor of, from which this article was adapted.

This article appears in the October 2016 issue of Natural Awakenings.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

A Local Author’s Journey of Healing From Grief

Wauwatosa author Mary Lou Bailey tells the tale of how she gained strength after a loss in her book, I Am My Own Rug, released this past November through Broken Wing Press.

White Conch Dharma Center Presents Tonglen Meditation Workshop

Domo Geshe Rinpoche, Buddhist Lama of the Tibetan tradition, will teach Taking Suffering into the Heart of Compassion–Tonglen Half-Day Workshop, from 2 to 5 p.m. March 10, at Unity Church, in Wauwatosa.

Sample the Area’s Best Chili While Supporting Independent Radio

WMSE 91.7 FM radio, a nonprofit, listener-supported radio service educationally licensed to the Milwaukee School of Engineering, will hold its 16th annual Rockabilly Chili Fundraiser from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., March 11, at MSOE’s Kern Center.

Local Farmer Open House Educates on Farm-to-Table Agriculture

Few things are as delicious as locally grown farm-fresh food, and subscribing to a community-supported agriculture program brings that food directly from a local farmer to the table.

Drink a Little, Help a Lot Fundraiser to Help Children in Malawi

Milwaukeeans will have an opportunity to help support construction of a new school in the eastern African nation of Malawi through the Drink a Little, Help a Lot fundraiser, hosted by Milwaukee area residents Niyati Desai and Claire Lang.

Rise Yoga Studio Off ers Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga for All Abilities

Paula Evans offers a flowing style of yoga that connects the movement of the body with the breath. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and Sri T. Krishnamacharya developed Ashtanga during the 20th century.

Letter from Publisher

Today Milwaukee has a diverse, sophisticated palate that includes vegetarian and vegan restaurants and a range of international cuisines that were difficult to find in the area a decade ago.

Outpost Natural Foods

Now over 22,000 owners strong, Outpost is a testament to society’s shift toward healthy food awareness.

Leafy Greens Lower Risk for Heart Disease

Teenagers that eat few leafy greens are at triple the risk for enlargement of the heart’s left ventricle, reducing blood pumping volumes, than teens that eat greens.

Physical Activity Deters Alzheimer's

Walking, dancing, gardening and other physical activities significantly improve brain volume and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Gooseberries are Good for the Gut

Malaysian subjects with gastrointestinal problems had less pain, vomiting and sleep loss when receiving an ayurvedic remedy known as Indian gooseberry.

Saunas Lower Blood Pressure

Four to seven saunas a week halved high blood pressure risk in a study of 1,621 Finnish men.

Add your comment: