There’s a certain point, as you drive west on the motorway from Sydney, Australia, where your eyes are greeted with a blue vista on the horizon.
You are not seeing the ocean, but some of the trees in the 1.03 million hectares that make up the Greater Blue Mountains Area. The magic in these trees is so strong it can change the colour of the landscape, covering their green canopy with a blue-grey haze.
The eucalypts which dominate the mountain forests discharge a fine mist of eucalyptus oil from their leaves. The mist refracts light, which makes the haze look blue from a distance.
Even now, after living in this natural wonderland for 30 years, the sight of that blue on the horizon puts a smile on my face when I am returning home.
It’s as if the trees themselves are calling to me. Perhaps they are.
Scientists have been able to listen to the noises made by thirsty trees. They are ultrasonic pops, 100 times faster than what a human ear can hear. Did you read my post, Talk to the Trees – They Just Might Answer?
Research is showing that trees communicate with each other too. Not only can they differentiate between the damage caused by a hungry animal nibbling their leaves and damage the wind may cause, but they can also protect themselves and alert their friends to the danger.
The trees can detect the animal’s saliva on their leaves and sometimes even hear when an insect or animal is munching on them. This prompts them to produce bad-tasting tannins to discourage more feasting.
The trees send volatile organic compounds into the air which are detected by other plants growing nearby. They too produce the bad-tasting tannins to protect themselves.
When damage is caused to the leaves by wind, instead of producing the tannins, trees produce wound hormones to help heal themselves.
THE WOOD WIDE WEB
Current research is focusing on how trees communicate using what is being called a ‘wood’ wide web.
The fungi that grow around the base of trees is being referred to as ‘Earth’s natural internet’.
These fungi are made up of a mass of thin threads, known as mycelium. They link the roots of different plants, connecting them like the internet connects people.
Trees are able to transfer carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus to each other via the mycelium.
Scientists believe that mature trees help out the younger saplings by using this fungal internet.
Trees also use the web to communicate. Plants attacked by harmful fungi release chemical signals into the mycelia that warn their neighbours.
In his book, The Hidden Life of Trees, forester Peter Wohlleben claims that trees form friendships, have families, have memories and make decisions. This book, full of wonderment, documents Wohlleben’s observations of various trees and how he uncovers some of their secrets and magic.
It is not only trees’ secrets that make them magical.
In fact, their most magical role could be the one they are best known for, as the ‘lungs of the planet’.
They absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, provide shade, shelter and food for countless creatures, help to reduce temperatures and help to filter water before it reaches rivers and oceans.
THE MAGIC OF TREES AND OUR HEALTH AND WELL-BEING
The more research, the more it becomes apparent our relationship and dependency on trees go beyond what they do for us physically.
Studies have shown that being in their presence can make us happier and mentally healthier.
As Beverley Golden points out in her article, Nature Can Heal Humanity, forest bathing is now a recognised health benefit. In fact, forest therapy is now covered under Japan’s medical insurance schemes.
It is believed spending time with trees can also help children learn important life skills.
In the lead up to this year’s National Tree Day (Australia, July 30) its organiser, Planet Ark, commissioned research into what teachers considered to be the key elements of learning for children to prepare them for the challenges they will face in the future.
The majority of teachers considered critical thinking, problem-solving and grit (determination, persistence and motivation) as well as emotional intelligence to be the weakest traits in today’s students.
These are vital skills in a world where innovators will be called on to help save the planet.
Clinical Psychologist Kirrilie Smout, the director of Developing Minds Psychology and Education, agrees.
She has worked with kids and teens for 20 years and says the challenges for them will be different from what society has encountered in the past.
And these challenges will not be solved by following predetermined “rules”. We have all the information we need – but information alone is not going to help us. We are going to need future generations to scan information quickly, try new approaches, think flexibly and independently to create new solutions to new problems in the future.
THE MAGIC OF TREES FOR LEARNING
Planet Ark members believe more time spent in nature could enhance these skills and they are not alone in that thinking.
Naturalist, conservationist, award-winning nature photographer and publisher Steve Parish claims nature connection is the single most important issue of our time.
Humans have always been hardwired to nature; although too many of us see ourselves as separate from the natural world.
Parish describes trees as the planetary icon for nature and says they are a life-centre for our mental, spiritual and physical well-being.
It never ceases to amaze me of the parallels and life lessons we can learn from trees like the tenacity of a windswept tree growing on a cliff top, the resilience and durability of a tree like the Moreton Bay fig with its enormous prop root system or the determination of a tiny seed that grows into a giant ghost gum soaring amongst the tallest trees in the world. Through focus and sheer grit, we too can surmount barriers, break through fears to attain aspirations well beyond our wildest dreams.
Given all the valuable lessons we can learn from trees, it’s sad to note nearly one in three Australian children have never planted one.
WHEN CHILDREN DON’T SEE THE MAGIC OF TREES
Several months ago we decided to visit a nearby shopping centre that was hosting a night time street food fair.
A couple of the Goddesses and their parents met us there to join in the feasting and fun entertainment.
As I walked around the fair, hand in hand with one of the Goddesses, she pointed to an area filled with happy children playing in the dark and said she wanted to join them.
When we came closer to the area I noticed the kids were playing around a big tree. They were running and screaming with delight. On closer inspection, I saw they were also ripping the branches off the tree and using the sticks to play with.
Not content with stripping the tree of its branches, the children started pulling the bark and leaves off the tree.
I could feel the tears fill my eyes. I told the Goddess I didn’t want her to play with those children because they were being so mean to the tree.
She asked what I meant. It was only a tree. I asked her how she would feel if someone started to pull her arm really hard.
“We don’t know how that tree is feeling honey because we can’t hear it,” I said.
I quickly took her away from the area. I wanted to speak up on behalf of the tree. It was clear this particular group of parents would not have appreciated my interference. And I had my granddaughter by my side.
PROMOTING LOVE AND RESPECT FOR NATURE’S (ALMOST) SILENT MAGICIANS
The flip side of this is a beautiful story told by Krishnamurti in his book, Krishnamurti’s Notebook.
A little boy in red trousers and in a red coat was playing by himself under a large, spreading tree; there was no one near him, he was by himself, lost in his own world; he must have been five or six, with a happy round face; his eyes were almost closed and he was going round and round the tree, in a widening circle, talking to himself with an occasional posture. He stopped all of a sudden, looked up the tree, came back to the large, rough trunk and touched it softly, almost caressing it and started running back to his house; he stopped, looked back at the tree, waved his hand and disappeared behind a gate. The tree and the little boy must have been great friends; he was completely at home with it, completely happy. The tree heavy with dark, bright leaves and the red suit were beautiful in the morning light. It was an enchanting morning and they were both part of the morning, like that flower and the sky…
To give our children the benefits of nature, we have to allow them the time and space to enjoy it. But we also need to teach them to have respect for it.
This year mark’s National Tree Day’s 22nd anniversary. During those years, more than 3.8 million volunteers have planted more than 23 million trees, shrubs and grasses across Australia.
MORE WAYS TO HONOUR THE MAGIC OF TREES
More than half of the world’s native forests have been destroyed.
There are some things we can do to stop this trend.
- Spend more time outdoors and encourage our children to love and respect nature.
- Reuse sheets of paper – use the blank side for children’s drawings, shopping lists and notes.
- Buy recycled paper.
- Recycle all paper.
- Place a ‘no junk mail’ sign on our mailboxes to discourage the production of advertising brochures.
- Be mindful of the coconut and palm oil products we buy – clearing forests to plant palms is happening on a huge scale. Look for sustainable, fair trade and ethical brands.
- Buy more Brazil nuts. The bees that pollinate Brazil nut trees rely on a rare species of orchids, which only grow in natural forests. No bees means no pollination which means no fruit in the trees. A higher demand for Brazil nuts will encourage keeping our natural forests alive and well.
- Above all, plant trees. 100 trees are bulldozed for every one that is planted. People are working to counter this though. Last year, more than 800,000 volunteers in India planted nearly 50 million trees in just one day.
Happy planting and have a gleeful week, Tamuria.
LoriJuly 25, 2017 at 11:48 am
This as usual is a lovely article which is so benefit for children and trees are so beautiful to reference and be part of our wonderful earth. I love the way you tie in your thoughts with how nature and being outside is such a learning environment.
tamuriaJuly 25, 2017 at 12:19 pm
It’s a subject close to my heart, Lori. I get so much happiness and comfort from nature – trees in particular. Nature is such a wonderful and inspirational teacher. Thank you for your kind words.
Reba LinkerJuly 27, 2017 at 11:52 pm
My heart expands when I read this post, Tamuria! I love the Krishnamurti story, and I almost cried to hear about the children ripping pieces off that venerable old tree in the center of their play. This post also syncs well with Jennifer Quisenberry’s post this week, and I so appreciate both of you offering your readers action steps to take to be part of the solution! Thank you. May your words reach far and wide and may they be a blessing for our beautiful planet!
tamuriaJuly 29, 2017 at 9:34 am
We all need to be part of the solution, Reba, and if we can get this message across to our children, it will lead to wonderful changes in the way we treat our planet and the way we treat ourselves.
Beverley GoldenJuly 28, 2017 at 7:37 am
Thank you so much for sharing my article about nature in your post, Tami! I appreciate that you are also so passionate about sharing the wonders of nature, always encouraging people to develop a closer connection and understanding of the benefits it offers us humans. I was almost crying as well when I read of the callous unknowing of the children ripping at the tree. If only trees could talk in ways we could hear. Of course they do talk, it is just that we humans will not take the time to tune in an listen. A friend of mine has been travelling the world and doing tree conversations and creating the conversation in artwork. It is not a verbal communication and there are no machines involved. It is an intuitive listening from the heart and connecting to the essence of the tree. I know you would find her work fascinating so I am sharing her website here: http://www.thetreeconversations.com
It is heart-warming for me to see how many tree planting initiatives there are around the world and how slowly the awareness is being raised about how integral trees and plants are to us and the planet. If more people stopped to digest and embrace how incredible the natural world is, perhaps we would have a shift from casual indifference to reverence for the plant kingdom. Thanks for sharing all this amazing information!
tamuriaJuly 29, 2017 at 9:43 am
I think Steve Parish had it right when he said too many of us see ourselves as separate from the natural world. It’s a good thing to remember we are mammals first and humans second. We ARE part of nature. When people come to realise this and reconnect, I believe more of us will be able to ‘hear’ the trees. I am looking forward to reading about your friend’s tree conversations. Thank you for sharing the link.
I was happy to share your article, Beverley. The more we can do to open people’s eyes to all the magic of nature, the happier and more peaceful our world will be.
CandessJuly 29, 2017 at 2:00 am
What an incredible and informative article! I especially like “Current research is focusing on how trees communicate using what is being called a ‘wood’ wide web.” What a difference from the www. I am looking forward to spending time this weekend with my granddaughter reading this to her and taking her out to talk with trees. I love that science is catching up with many of us “Goddesses” have known for many years. There is a beautiful tree I called the “grandmother tree” that would communicate with me when I walked the trail. Thanks for this memory. I’ll find my journal and see what wisdom she shared. This would be a great science project for kids!
tamuriaJuly 29, 2017 at 9:49 am
The ‘grandmother tree’ sounds amazing Candess. I have certain trees I consider friends. When I’m feeling sad or scared I make sure to spend time right next to them – sitting below them with my back against their trunks, sometimes just rubbing my hand on their bark. Right away I feel peaceful and my perspective of things change.It’s like they are passing on their wisdom through osmosis. What a gift if we can teach children to enjoy these benefits from a young age.
Kristen WilsonJuly 31, 2017 at 11:35 am
We had this discussion on FB about my trees.. and I do agree… we need to keep them, they have so many stories. I have a girl friend who lives in Sacramento and part of the Tree Foundation and she has been raising her children on these principals and showing them how to seed them, value them, and the value of them over time.
tamuriaAugust 7, 2017 at 8:16 am
You friend in Sacramento is creating a wonderful legacy. It is so important to get kids to appreciate nature, for them and the world.
MeghanJuly 31, 2017 at 8:51 pm
You’ve enriched and added to my already deep admiration and awe of nature and the environment around us. I actually long for more natural views because of the peace they provide. Trees are incredible, fascinating cohabitors. If they had a stronger fight mechanism, us humans would be in for it! Your article confirms something I tell my husband all of the time. Nearly everything we have comes at the expense of something else having to die. I’m referring to the many consumer driven items on the market today and even our food. The story about the kids saddens me since it strengthens my belief that as a society and culture we don’t respect Mother Nature and one another. But I’ll stay hopeful!
tamuriaAugust 7, 2017 at 8:33 am
Definitely keep the hope, Meghan. I truly believe things will turn around.
Joyce HansenAugust 1, 2017 at 1:01 am
I did not know about the communication network of trees. This is so in keeping with the spiritual thoughts that ‘everything is connected.’ When I was a kid I belonged to 4-H and there was a big emphasis on trees and replanting. I’m ever so grateful this tradition continues as we have so much to learn from trees and from you.
tamuriaAugust 10, 2017 at 10:06 am
I’ve always loved trees too Joyce but now, the more I discover about them the more in awe I am. I think we’ve only just scratched the surface of what they can do as far as communicating. They really are wonderful teachers and thank you for the compliment. 🙂
Cathy SykoraAugust 2, 2017 at 10:35 am
I love trees so much. It was more important to me that we got into a neighborhood with lots of big, medium and small trees than almost anything else. I look outside my window and see the sun shining on the leaves and the wind moving them around – there’s not much more comforting than trees for me. We’ve lost about 60 trees since we bought this house, but we’ve planted more and we still have big beautiful trees…and they all have special meaning. My daughter and her boyfriend planted a tree really close to another tree and it was so sweet I didn’t make them move it…turned out that other tree died and the tree they planted is providing perfect privacy now. Your blog made me happy to read.
tamuriaAugust 10, 2017 at 10:10 am
I feel the same way about trees, Cathy, there is not much more comforting to me. Sadly, we are losing a few just now but we’ll be sure to plant more like you have.
Jennifer Quisenberry of The Awesome MuseAugust 2, 2017 at 12:40 pm
We have a similar phenomenon here in the States – the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. They also release something into the mountains to give it that gorgeous blue haze look. Isn’t it amazing what trees can do? it’s like they are sharing a little bit of themselves with us.
tamuriaAugust 10, 2017 at 10:11 am
I love the way you put that, Jennifer – like sharing a little bit of themselves with us. Yes, it is truly amazing what they can do.
Lorii AbelaAugust 2, 2017 at 12:57 pm
I love trees. I enjoy them particularly during spring and fall when their colors are looking fabulous. I think it is also interesting that my element in the Chinese zodiac is wood. I used to hike a lot some years ago and I am also all about trees conservation.
tamuriaAugust 10, 2017 at 10:15 am
Trees are super spectacular during spring and autumn, Lorii, I agree.
Apolline AdijuAugust 3, 2017 at 12:00 am
…perhaps they are calling you home. I knew of the eucalyptus tree but did not know that they discharge a fine mist of eucalyptus oil from their leaves that refracts light and makes the haze look blue from a distance. I agree with you that we should spend more time outdoors and encourage our kids to love and respect nature.
tamuriaAugust 10, 2017 at 10:17 am
It surely feels like they are calling me home, Apolline. It is vital we teach our kids to love and respect nature.