In The Hidden Life of Trees a German forest ranger–turned–author suggests that trees have social networks, share resources and nurture their young.
Text and photos first appeared together in the October 2016 issue of Air Canada enRoute.
For a long time, even I did not know how slowly trees grew. In the forest I manage, there are beeches that are between three and seven feet tall. In the past, I would have estimated them to be 10 years old at most. But when I began to investigate mysteries outside the realm of commercial forestry, I took a closer look.
An easy way to estimate the age of a young beech tree is to count the small nodes on its branches. These nodes are tiny swellings that look like a bunch of fine wrinkles. They form every year underneath the buds, and when these grow the following spring and the branch gets longer, the nodes remain behind. When the branch gets thicker than about a tenth of an inch, the nodes disappear into the expanding bark. When I examined one of my young beech trees, it turned out that a single eight–inch–long twig already had 25 of these swellings. I carefully extrapolated the age of the tree to be at least 80 years, maybe more. That seemed unbelievable at the time, until I continued my investigations into ancient forests. Now I know: It is absolutely normal.