The Hidden Life of Trees

Trees can talk. Or rather, trees send messages to each other through the “Wood Wide Web,” a network of roots and fungi that pass along electrical signals with important content like “Beetles incoming” or “Time to drop the seeds,” thereby allowing trees to defend themselves against invaders and coordinate breeding patterns. Which is to say: Trees can talk. This whimsical observation is, in essence, the thesis of Peter Wohllenben’s charming celebration of forests and trees, The Hidden Life of Trees.

Don’t be misled by the cover. The clusterf**k of fonts, clinical picture of trees, and unnecessary sub-sub-title (“Discoveries from a Secret World”) together suggest a poorly crafted text — the typical jargon-infested, grasping-at-relevance tedium that academics write in the waning decades of their careers, after discovering that they are both poor and boring.

But The Hidden Life of Trees is much better than all that. Wohllenben, perhaps because he is a forester by trade, rather than an academic, avoids the usual pitfalls of pop-science — equal parts over-technicality and condescension — and instead manages a quirky, informative, and altogether delightful introduction to trees. If the book drags on at all, it’s only because Wohllenben loves trees too much to leave any kind word about them unspoken.

Good For: East coast hikers who struggle to get above tree line.

Not Good For: Loggers; lumberjacks.

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