The Sunday Magazine·THE SUNDAY EDITON

It sounds like a fairytale! But forester Peter Wohlleben believes trees really do talk to each other

Trees have feelings. They communicate with each other. They even have distinct personalities and memories. Michael talks to the author of The Hidden Life of Trees.
Left: La Gomera, Canary Island, Spain (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images); Right: Peter Wohlleben's 'The Hidden Life of Trees' (Greystone Books/David Suzuki Institute);

You know the enchanted forests of fairy tales, where trees seem eerily conscious, conveying messages to each other — not merely living things, but animate beings.

After reading Peter Wohlleben's international bestseller, The Hidden Life of Trees, it's tempting to think that enchanted forests may be as close by as the nearest forest that has escaped being tampered with by humans.

Our way of looking at nature comes from the age of enlightenment. Two or three hundred years ago, scientists began to look at nature like a big machine, without any soul, without any feelings. Within the last decades, we changed our view on animals... but why do we treat plants like second-class beings?- Peter Wohlleben

Wohlleben writes of trees as having something approaching intelligence and sentience — communicating with each other and with other forms of life, sometimes sharing resources with, and nurturing, other trees, and sometimes just pursuing their own agendas.

Peter Wohlleben (Courtesy of
The have their quirks and individual personalities. They patiently wait for decades for their chance to grow and claim their place in the forest canopy. They unfurl potent arsenals of chemical defences against pests and predators. They rear their offspring. They're part of a dense resource-sharing network that crackles with communications through the soil. They acquire wisdom over centuries of standing firm, bending with the wind, and weathering storms, fires, disease and changes in the climate. 

To paraphrase an adage beloved of some biologists, ecology isn't rocket science; it's much more complicated. And science is revealing a staggeringly complex web of life in the forest — densely interconnected and full of interdependencies between species that compete against each other, but are also essential for each other's survival.

We humans are fenced in our own abilities. We're always searching [for] things we can imagine. And we can't imagine how a tree brain should look like, and so no one has found it so far.- Peter Wohlleben

Peter Wohlleben spent two decades working for Germany's forestry commission and now manages an old beech forest in the municipality of Hummel, about 40 kilometres from Bonn. He's the author of The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate

Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview. 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?