Remarkable research by determined scientists and foresters has proven that trees are more than sticks of wood just waiting to be cut down to build houses. Smart people have been working hard to truly understand trees; how they grow, how they interact with each other, how a forest works, and how humans can help.
Dr. Suzanne Simard unearthed knowledge of the underground fungal network that allows trees to interact and communicate. She also discovered hub trees. She calls them the Mother Trees of a forest. These biggest, tallest trees are highly connected with other trees, and have an important role in the flow of information and resources in a forest. They even recognize their kin; seedlings that are related to them. Dr. Simard’s fascinating new book Finding The Mother Tree details her methods and her discoveries. The book is supported by the website The Mother Tree Project.
In 2016, a book written by a German forester, Peter Wohlleben, was published in English after the original German version generated a good amount of controversy. In his book, The hidden Life of Trees: What they Feel, How they Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World, Mr. Wohlleben advocates for higher ecological standards in forest management. It is the author’s opinion that undisturbed forests should be preserved so that existing trees can grow old with dignity as they pass on knowledge to the next generation.
It is interesting to note that while Mr. Wohlleben’s and Dr. Simard’s work convinced each of them independently that trees are far more than simple chunks of wood, they both began their careers in the lumber industry.
Not all of us who love forests are able to become best selling authors or dedicated researchers, but we can support their findings by becoming amateur foresters.
By using a readily available website, we all can learn to identify our local trees; to tell the difference between a Jeffry pine, a Ponderosa pine, or a Sugar pine. We all hike with our phones now, so it’s easy to pull up TRPA’s tree ID tip sheet to learn about that sensational tree right in front of you as you hike through Tahoe’s woods. Or discover, when resting against a tree with bark smelling like vanilla, it’s a Jeffrey pine that’s got your back.
Just in case your hike takes you to a place where you are looking at the biggest tree you’ve ever seen in your life, you might be able to make it famous by including it in a registry of large trees (if it hasn’t been included already). The USDA, Lake Tahoe Basin website gives specific instructions, as well as links to California and Nevada big tree registry. Good luck with your hunt!
Maybe, though, the best thing about a forest is its simple serenity. Go find a cozy grove, let the slight but pungent piney odor tickle your nose, then, be quiet and let the trees do all the talking.
It seems that John Muir said it best:
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”