Next time you take a walk in Wynberg Park, why not pause to listen to the trees talking to each other.

Taking to the trees on the “woodwide web’

By Evelyn John Holtzhausen

“I talk to the trees but they don’t listen to me” was the popular song from the 1969 musical Paint Your Wagon.

But acording to recent research, Clint Eastwood who sang the song in the movie was wrong; the trees it seems may well not ony have been listening but talking as well.

So next time you take a walk in Wynberg park, why not pause to listen to the trees talking to each other.

I am not talking about the rustle of leaves in the breeze nor the creak of one branch rubbing against another in a heavy wind.

In a recent best selling book, The Hidden Life of Trees, German Forester, Peter Wohlleben working in the Eifel mountain range in western Germany, chronicles what his experience has taught him about the hidden language of trees and how trailblazing arboreal research around the world reveals “the role forests play in making our world the kind of place where we want to live.”

Trees have friends, feel loneliness, scream with pain and communicate underground via the “woodwide web”, says Wohlleben

“Some act as parents and good neighbours. Others do more than just throw shade – they’re brutal bullies to rival species. “

Suddenly a walk in the park feels different when you imagine the network of roots crackling with sappy chat beneath your feet, says the Guardian in a review of the Hidden Life of Trees.

Since Darwin, we have generally thought of trees as striving, disconnected loners, competing for water, nutrients and sunlight, with the winners shading out the losers and sucking them dry.  

The timber industry in particular sees forests as wood-producing systems and battlegrounds for survival of the fittest.

There is now a substantial body of scientific evidence that refutes that idea. It shows instead that trees of the same species are communal, and will often form alliances with trees of other species.

Forest trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and a collective intelligence similar to an insect colony.

These soaring columns of living wood draw the eye upward to their outspreading crowns, but the real action is taking place underground, just a few inches below our feet.

“The thing that surprised me most is how social trees are,” says Wohlleben. ” I stumbled over an old stump one day and saw that it was still living although it was 400 or 500 years old, without any green leaf.  Every living being needs nutrition. The only explanation was that it was supported by its neighbour trees via the roots with a sugar solution.”

The key to it, says, Wohlleben is trees messaging their distress in electrical signals via their roots and across fungi networks (“like our nerve system”) to others nearby when they are under attack.

By the same means, they feed stricken trees, nurture some saplings and restrict others to keep the community strong.

According to  Wohlleben it’s almost as if trees have feelings and character.” Says the Guardian.

” He talks about the natural world admiringly, wondrously even, but unsentimentally.

In the end Wohlleben wants us to cut down our wood consumption and enjoy trees more — and with the abundance of trees in Wynberg Park, there is no excuse not to.