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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Costello, workbooks

MFA Nov-Dec 2021

Drawing EHRF; Trees as Sentient Beings; Vic Earth Science; Flax Paper making


I am continuing drawing even though the results are less than impressive. I figure I will get better at observing the forest by sitting in front of it each day, and slowly I am watching and connecting with the forest as a whole. To me it seems like the canopy is a sort of skin sunbathing. The entire forest canopy is one mass of odd greens/reds/yellows so particular to Aotearoa. The greens are in patches as the trees like to be by their own kind, so there are swathes of colour blocks. Wind moves sections of the canopy depending on the topographical features but the canopy sort of hides the shape of the land beneath and even the depth of field of vision.

Reading Wohlleben The Hidden Life of Trees, he describes the canopy as not only a receptor for light necessary for trees to photosynthesise but also as a covering to keep the inner spaces of the forest moist and warm and dark, all necessary for the trees to survive. He book is a revelation of just how sentienct trees are - their ability to feel and communicate, remember and adapt to problems and situations, all done so slowly. Wohlleben manages a forest in Germany so he knows his trees with an intimacy and knowledge borne of keen and prolonged observation. It enlivens the way I look at the forest living beside me.

Today I approached my drawing exercise as if I was drawing a portrait of a living being. I begin now by selecting a place to start, placing the darker colours first as a sort of anchor, then coming through with the lighter colours. It is quiet, meditative and I do feel an embodiment with the forest. The longer I sit there I notice the birds flying, trees swaying and a sense of time slowing.

Clearly, this is all in the genre of pictorial landscape with its history of colonising and controlling nature. Hmm... To me it feels more in line with Japanese pictorial landscapes. I will need to research this as it will be an important element of my exegesis.

Figure 1 Pine Trees (Shōrin-zu byōbu). Hasegawa Tohaku, 1600s. Ink on paper


Wohlleben, Peter. The Hidden Life of Trees : What They Feel, How They Communicate - Discoveries from a Secret World, Black Inc., 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central,

"In his bestselling book, The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben argues that to save the world’s forests we must first recognize that trees are “wonderful beings” with innate adaptability, intelligence, and the capacity to communicate with — and heal — other trees.

As a student in forestry school, Peter Wohlleben was trained to look at trees exclusively as an economic commodity. But after joining a German forestry agency and managing a community forest, he soon became disillusioned with practices like clear-cutting, chemical use, and mechanical harvesting that put short-term profits before sustainability. Wohlleben was eventually hired by the local mayor to look after the same forest in an eco-friendly way. Today, he manages the forest without using insecticides or heavy machinery, and the trees are harvested by hand and hauled out by horses. He also has started a “living gravestone” project in which townspeople pay the equivalent of the commercial value of an ancient tree to have their ashes interred at its base. The woodland has gone from a money-losing operation to a profitable one.

Peter Wohlleben

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees, discusses how trees are sophisticated organisms that live in families, support their sick neighbors, and have the capacity to make decisions and fight off predators. He has been criticized for anthropomorphizing trees, but Wohlleben, 52, maintains that to succeed in preserving our forests in a rapidly warming world, we must start to look at trees in an entirely different light. _____ Yale Environment 360: You write in your book: “When I began my life as a forester, I knew as much about the hidden life of trees as a butcher knows about animals.” Peter Wohlleben: Forestry students are taught how to harvest wood, what machines to use, how to sharpen the blade of a chainsaw, how to sell the timber, what price to expect — that’s about it. As a young forester I was told to make clear-cuts, to use insecticides, and so on. I thought— “Wait, I am someone who wants to protect nature, and here I am being asked to destroy it!” I visited some other districts that were operating in an eco-friendly way, and I thought, that’s the way woods should be managed. But the problem is I was still thinking of trees as a commodity, as something to sell, not as living beings. I had to learn from the people of the community where my forest is located how to take a closer look at trees, to see them as unique individuals. I also started reading the latest scientific research that began to present me with a new picture of trees as highly sensitive and social beings. e360: Social beings? Wohlleben: We all learn in school that evolution advances by pitting each individual against every other in the struggle for survival. As a forester, I learned that trees are competitors that struggle against each other for light, for space. But we are now learning that individuals of a species are actually working together, they are cooperating with one another. e360: How exactly do trees cooperate with one another? Wohlleben: One thing is that mother trees suckle their children, they feed the young tree just enough sugars produced by its own photosynthesis to keep it from dying. Trees in a forest of the same species are connected by the roots, which grow together like a network. Their root tips have highly sensitive brain-like structures that can distinguish whether the root that it encounters in the soil is its own root, the root of another species, or the roots of its own species. If it encounters its own kind, I don’t know if scientists yet know how this happens, but we have measured with radioactive-marked sugar molecules that there is a flow from healthy trees to sick trees so that they will have an equal measure of food and energy available.

“Parts of the forest that grew naturally were 3 degrees C cooler than those managed by humans.”

e360: How do the healthy trees that feed their sick companions benefit? Wohlleben: If sick trees die, they fall, which open gaps in the canopy. The climate becomes hotter and drier and the environment becomes worse for the trees that remain. In the forest I manage, students from Aachen University did a study that shows that the parts of the forest that grew naturally were 3 degrees C cooler than those that are managed and disturbed by humans. The world is trying to limit warming from climate change to 2 degrees, but undisturbed forests can do even better than that. Forests create their own microclimate. When we thin forests, the temperature rises, the humidity goes down, evaporation increases, and all the trees begin to suffer. So trees have a stake in supporting one another to keep all members of the community healthy. e360: You tell one amazing story in the book about trees keeping neighboring stumps alive. Wohlleben: This one beech tree was cut four to 500 years ago by a charcoal maker, but the stump is still alive — we found green chlorophyll under the thick bark. The tree has no leaves to create sugars, so the only explanation is that it has been supported by neighboring trees for more than four centuries. I made this discovery myself, and later learned that other foresters have observed this happening as well. e360: Are there other ways that trees help each other? Wohlleben: We know that trees also exchange information. When one tree is attacked by insects, we can measure electrical signals that pass through the bark and into the roots and from there into fungi networks in the soil that alert nearby trees of the danger. The trees pay for this service by supplying the fungi with sugars from their photosynthesis. And the fungi in turn protect their host trees from attacks by other dangerous species of fungi and contamination by heavy metals. Trees also send chemical signals through the air when they are attacked by insects. Nearby trees receive these messages and have time to prepare their defenses. Scientists like Suzanne Simard [who teaches forestry at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver] have labeled this amazing web of communication the Wood Wide Web. e360: You have also written that trees remember their experiences? Wohlleben: We had a heavy drought here. In subsequent years, the trees that had suffered through the drought consumed less water in the spring so that they had more available for the summer months. Trees make decisions. They can decide things. We can also say that a tree can learn, and it can remember a drought its whole life and act on that memory by being more cautious of its water usage. e360: You’ve said that there are “friendships” between trees. What is the evidence for that? Wohlleben: In about one in 50 cases, we see these special friendships between trees. Trees distinguish between one individual and another. They do not treat all other trees the same. Just today, I saw two old beeches standing next to each other. Each one was growing its branches turned away from the other rather than toward each other, as is more usually the case. In this way and others, tree friends take care of each other. This kind of partnership is well known to foresters. They know that if you see such a couple, they are really like a human couple; you have to chop down both if you chop one down, because the other will die anyway.

“Plants process information just as animals do, but for the most part they do this much more slowly.”

e360: You speak about trees as if they had personalities. Wohlleben: Trees have just as much character as humans do. They also exercise independent judgments, which can differ. If trees lose their leaves too early, they many not produce enough food for a long winter. If they keep them on too long, they may get caught in an early snowstorm and the weight of the snow can break their branches. Some trees of the same species and age living right next to each other shed their leaves weeks before their neighbors. I’m not sure why some choose to do this earlier and others later, but it shows that there really are differences of character that we can’t easily account for. e360: You have been criticized for attributing emotions to trees. Scientists usually avoid such language. Wohlleben: We humans are emotional animals. We feel things, we don’t just know the world intellectually. So I use words of emotion to connect with people’s experience. Science often takes these words out, but then you have a language people can’t relate to, that they can’t understand. That’s one reason most scientific research has so little impact on people. If you only write technically about “biochemical processes,” people would quickly get bored and stop reading. We have been viewing nature like a machine. That is a pity because trees are badly misunderstood. e360: How so? Wohlleben: We just see them as oxygen producers, as timber producers, as creators of shade. I always ask people, “Who would think of, say, elephants in such terms?” We don’t look at elephants just as commodities or as mechanical and insentient objects. We recognize them as marvelous beings. On the other hand, nobody thinks about the inner life of trees, the feelings of these wonderful living beings. e360: Plants are not generally thought to possess consciousness. Wohlleben: We have this essentially arbitrary caste system for living beings. We say plants are the lowest caste, the pariahs because they don’t have brains, they don’t move, they don’t have big brown eyes. Flies and insects have eyes, so they are a bit higher, but not so high as monkeys and apes and so on. I want to remove trees from this caste system. This hierarchical ranking of living beings is totally unscientific. Plants process information just as animals do, but for the most part they do this much more slowly. Is life in the slow lane worth less than life on the fast track? Perhaps we create these artificial barriers between humans and animals, between animals and plants, so that we can use them indiscriminately and without care, without considering the suffering that we are subjecting them to. e360: How would understanding trees better change the way we manage forests? Wohlleben: Humans are weakening ecosystems by indiscriminately cutting timber. We destroy tree social structures, we destroy their ability to react to climate change. We end up with individuals that are in a bad shape and susceptible to bark beetles, which can only infest trees that are already sick. A tree that is healthy can get rid of them. So the beetle is winning because we have degraded ecosystems to the point where they are unable to respond effectively to threats. Here in Germany, we have planted spruces to replace the beech trees. It is now too dry and warm for spruce, so those forests are failing in large parts of our country. It’s because we have planted the wrong species for the climate. We need to let nature heal itself and come back to balance with broadleaf species that are natural to our region, like oaks and beeches, which will help to cool the forests down and can survive climate change without too much harm.

“Faster growth makes trees less healthy and more susceptible to illnesses.”

e360: Do we need to manage forests at all? Wohlleben: We are told that forests and woodlands need management, but it is just plantations that need management because they are unstable systems that can be destroyed by storms, by insects, by fire. It’s like a farm with hundreds of acres of corn. It is highly likely that insects or fungi will kill these plants because there is just one species. It’s the same thing with monoculture tree plantations. Natural systems, with a variety of species, are much more resilient. e360: Managed forests and planted forests tend to space trees farther apart to encourage growth and prevent competition between the trees. Is this a good idea? Wohlleben: Well, that is one mistake introduced by foresters. While it is true that trees may grow faster when we remove their comrades, because more sunlight means more photosynthesis, they actually grow too quickly for their own good. Trees should grow very slowly in the first 200 years, which we can call their youth. If they grow too fast in the beginning, they will waste all their energy in the rapid growth and will be out of breath, exhausted, and die early. It is similar to industrial meat production where a pig, for example, is fed too much so that it grows prematurely and in five or six months it can be sold and slaughtered. But the animals are unhealthy. People on their home plots make the same mistake: They cut down some trees to encourage the growth of others. That would be like a family where they shoot the parents to give the kids more space. You slaughter their mother and the young trees will grow very fast, but they will be unhealthy and have short lives. e360: Trees are growing faster now because of more CO2 in the air. Is that a good thing? Wohlleben: Not at all. In Germany now, for example, trees are growing 30 percent faster than decades ago. But as I’ve said, faster growth makes trees less healthy and more susceptible to illnesses. The wood is also of lower quality, so the price we get for it is going down. The cells of these fast growing trees actually become bigger and more susceptible to fungi. A little wound can open them to rot, which kills them. e360: Can foresters help protect forests from climate change and other environmental threats? I understand that in your forest, you still do things the old fashioned way. Wohlleben: That’s right, we use horse-drawn carts to remove the wood. In between the trees, we don’t use any heavy machinery, which compresses the soil up to two meters deep and pushes the air out and makes it less able to soak up the water in winter that the trees need to use for growth in the spring. e360: So the low-tech methods are actually more cost effective? Wohlleben: Yes, they are working well all over the world — in the Amazon, even in the U.S, some forest owners are working with these methods. We recommend growing only tree species that are natural to the area. I also advise not to make any clear cuts, don’t kill the mother trees that are protecting their children, leave the families intact. Don’t use heavy machinery and cut out pesticides and other toxic chemicals that kill off beneficial insects and microorganisms in the soil. These are the keys to maintaining a successful and long-lived forest.

Quotes from book -

Chapter 1

But why are trees such social beings? Why do they share food with their own species and sometimes even go so far as to nourish their competitors? The reasons are the same as for human communities: there are advantages to working together. A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And this protected environment, trees can live to be very old. To get to this point, the community must remain intact no matter what. If every tree were looking out only for itself, then quite a few of them would never reach old age. Regular fatalities would result in many large gaps in the tree canopy, which would make it easier for storms to get inside the forest and uproot more trees.

Wohlleben, Peter. The Hidden Life of Trees : What They Feel, How They Communicate - Discoveries from a Secret World, Black Inc., 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Created from massey on 2021-11-24 02:22:37.

The average tree grows its branches out until it encounters the branch tips of a neighboring tree of the same height. It doesn’t grow any wider because the air and better light in this space are already taken. However, it heavily reinforces the branches it has extended, so you get the impression that there’s quite a shoving match going on up there. But a pair of true friends is careful right from the outset not to grow overly thick branches in each other’s direction. The trees don’t want to take anything away from each other, and so they develop sturdy branches only at the outer edges of their crowns, that is to say, only in the direction of “nonfriends.” Such partners are often so tightly connected at the roots that sometimes they even die together.

Wohlleben, Peter. The Hidden Life of Trees : What They Feel, How They Communicate - Discoveries from a Secret World, Black Inc., 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Created from massey on 2021-11-24 02:24:38.

Tree roots extend a long way, more than twice the spread of the crown. So the root systems of neighboring trees inevitably intersect and grow into one another— though there are always some exceptions. Even in a forest, there are loners, would-be hermits who want little to do with others. Can such antisocial trees block alarm calls simply by not participating? Luckily, they can’t. For usually there are fungi present that act as intermediaries to guarantee quick dissemination of news. These fungi operate like fiber-optic Internet cables. Their thin filaments penetrate the ground, weaving through it in almost unbelievable density. One teaspoon of forest soil contains many miles of these “hyphae.” 8 Over centuries, a single fungus can cover many square miles and network an entire forest. The fungal connections transmit signals from one tree to the next, helping the trees exchange news about insects, drought, and other dangers. Science has adopted a term first coined by the journal Nature for Dr. Simard’s discovery of the “wood wide web” pervading our forests. 9 What and how much information is exchanged are subjects we have only just begun to research. For instance, Simard discovered that different tree species are in contact with one another, even when they regard each other as competitors. 10 And the fungi are pursuing their own agendas and appear to be very much in favor of conciliation and equitable distribution of information and resources. 11

Wohlleben, Peter. The Hidden Life of Trees : What They Feel, How They Communicate - Discoveries from a Secret World, Black Inc., 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Created from massey on 2021-11-24 18:48:53.

In the symbiotic community of the forest, not only trees but also shrubs and grasses— and possibly all plant species— exchange information this way. However, when we step into farm fields, the vegetation becomes very quiet. Thanks to selective breeding, our cultivated plants have, for the most part, lost their ability to communicate above or below ground— you could say they are deaf and dumb— and therefore they are easy prey for insect pests. 12 That is one reason why modern agriculture uses so many pesticides. Perhaps farmers can learn from the forests and breed a little more wildness back into their grain and potatoes so that they’ll be more talkative in the future.

Wohlleben, Peter. The Hidden Life of Trees : What They Feel, How They Communicate - Discoveries from a Secret World, Black Inc., 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Created from massey on 2021-11-24 18:50:41.

Communication between trees and insects doesn’t have to be all about defense and illness. Thanks to your sense of smell, you’ve probably picked up on many feel-good messages exchanged between these distinctly different life-forms. I am referring to the pleasantly perfumed invitations sent out by tree blossoms. Blossoms do not release scent at random or to please us. Fruit trees, willows, and chestnuts use their olfactory missives to draw attention to themselves and invite passing bees to sate themselves. Sweet nectar, a sugarrich liquid, is the reward the insects get in exchange for the incidental dusting they receive while they visit. The form and color of blossoms are signals, as well. They act somewhat like a billboard that stands out against the general green of the tree canopy and points the way to a snack. So trees communicate by means of olfactory, visual, and electrical signals. (The electrical signals travel via a form of nerve cell at the tips of the roots.) What about sounds? Let’s get back to hearing and speech. When I said at the beginning of this chapter that trees are definitely silent, the latest scientific research casts doubt even on this statement. Along with colleagues from Bristol and Florence, Dr. Monica Gagliano from the University of Western Australia has, quite literally, had her ear to the ground. 13 It’s not practical to study trees in the laboratory; therefore, researchers substitute grain seedlings because they are easier to handle. They started listening, and it didn’t take them long to discover that their measuring apparatus was registering roots crackling quietly at a frequency of 220 hertz. Crackling roots? That doesn’t necessarily mean anything. After all, even dead wood crackles when it’s burned in a stove. But the noises discovered in the laboratory caused the researchers to sit up and pay attention. For the roots of seedlings not directly involved in the experiment reacted. Whenever the seedlings’ roots were exposed to a crackling at 220 hertz, they oriented their tips in that direction. That means the grasses were registering this frequency, so it makes sense to say they “heard” it. Plants communicating by means of sound waves? That makes me curious to know more, because people also communicate using sound waves. Might this be a key to getting to know trees better? To say nothing of what it would mean if we could hear whether all was well with beeches, oaks, and pines, or whether something was up. Unfortunately, we are not that far advanced, and research in this field is just beginning.

Wohlleben, Peter. The Hidden Life of Trees : What They Feel, How They Communicate - Discoveries from a Secret World, Black Inc., 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Created from massey on 2021-11-24 18:54:19.


I'm researching flax paper making to see if I can achieve the transparency of texture similar to Japanese mulberry paper. It seems more apporpriate to use paper sourced from New Zealand and even more special if I could make it from harakeke growing along the East Harbour Regional Park. Here's a blog from Ali Brown on making the paper

I've made contact with harakeke paper makers in New Plymouth and will see about doing a course.


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