Why I’m a tree hugger and you should be too


When Frau B looks out of her fourth-floor bedroom window, she sees two tall trees. On the left is a spruce. Its mass of deep-green needles presents a burst of colour all-year-round.treehuga

But she’s more interested in the maple tree beside it. Each September, she watches its leaves turn from vibrant green to grimy brown and yellow. A few weeks later, the wind snatches them away, leaving a stark tangle of branches for Frau B to observe during the winter months.

At the age of 97, even she is a whipper-snapper compared to a tree.

When I told her the other day that scientists in Norway had discovered a 9,500-year-old spruce, she sighed.

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a tree community in Volkspark Humboldthain

“Mich nimmt der liebe Gott auch nicht,” she said, meaning ‘God won’t take me either.’

It’s something she says quite often, usually with a smile. This time, it conjured up an image of a long line at the gates of heaven. When Frau B eventually gets to the top, she is rejected alongside a Norwegian spruce. Together, they lament the curse of their longevity.

In the past few weeks, my relationship to trees has morphed from passive appreciation to zealous awe. Peter Wohlleben, the author of The Hidden Life of Trees is mostly responsible.

The book was an impulse-buy, having met my three criteria for spontaneous literary purchases: an inviting title, a pretty cover and the promise that I would be a slightly different person after reading it.

My transformation has become especially apparent to LSB, who now finds himself at the receiving end of a barrage of excited outbursts:

“Do you know that trees use fungal networks to communicate?”

“Woah! You will NOT believe this! Trees can detect the saliva of insects and use THAT knowledge to send out chemicals to attract their predators!”

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tree bark in Volkspark Humboldthain

“Okay, I promise this is the last one: did you know that parent trees deprive their children of LIGHT in order to keep their growth rate steady?”

“…I know, I know: I’m sorry but I just have to tell you this: trees of the same species INFORM each other about impending environmental threats!”

At first, he listened politely, nodding occasionally as he scrolled through his phone. But as the days turned to weeks and my enthusiasm failed to wane, he advised me gently that I was putting the “bore”into arboreal.

It hasn’t stopped me though.

What I find so extraordinary about trees is in fact quite unremarkable: they’re just like us.

They have memories, which they can pass on. Communication happens via a sophisticated electric network forged over millions of years. The sick are nursed and the tendency is to protect one’s own.

Eventually though, like you, me and Frau B, they breathe their last and descend into the ground. There they turn to humus and enable new life, once again, to begin.

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a sick tree is propped up by its neighbour in Volkspark Humboldthain

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14 thoughts on “Why I’m a tree hugger and you should be too

  1. The little two-year-old girl who cried because nobody bothered to pick up the fallen leaves and put them back on the tree has morphed into a champion for trees and gives them a voice in her blog.

  2. Kate, thanks for telling us about this book, can’t wait to read it! I have always been in awe of trees, and the miracle of life they represent. Without them we would literally cease to exist. And, as a carpenter, the beauty and versatility of wood has no limits.Btw, will be in Ireland next year, my nephew and I are doing the Liffey Descent!

    • Hi Robert, Thank you so much for reading and sharing my enthusiasm! I’ve always wished I could craft things out of wood! It must be a wonderful feeling.. Exciting you’re going to Ireland – you’ll have a great time! 🙂

  3. Loved this!

    I’m mad about trees and was recently trying to think of all the species of trees I can name off the top of my head — and could only come up with 16. It’s not terrible, but given how essential trees are to our survival, you’d think I’d be a bit smarter. I have several favorite trees in our town — few sights are as spectacular as a crimson Japanese maple with sunlight backlighting it. Swoon!

    • Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment! This book really did open up a fascinating new world for me! I would struggle to name 16 myself, to be honest, but I’m slowly learning to separate my sycamores from my maples! There are few things more beautiful than a tree-lined boulevard in autumn!

      • Ohhhh, sycamore. That’s not on my list (yet). 🙂 One tree I discovered all over NYC (!) is the gingko which I never saw in Canada. I would think linden is a big tree in Berlin? My fave discovery was the — wait for it — pohutakawa — in New Zealand.

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