A new documentary, Intelligent Trees, shows a side of trees that most of us have never seen before. Created by German forester Peter Wohlleben and forest ecologist Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia, the film explores the network of roots and fungal threads beneath the forest floor. This network, they say, allows trees to communicate and bond with one another in groups of family and friends.
While conventional wisdom would have us believe that trees simply passively interact with each other, Wohlleben and Simard claim there is so much more going on beneath the surface. Trees of a given species, they explain, actively support one another. They form friendships, and parent trees nurture their children. We can see this in the way that one trees will grow in ways that avoid blocking other trees’ light, or the way they will send out chemical warnings to other trees when attacked by insects. In this way, Wohlleben claims, trees can be said to have emotions like fear and pain, and a “language” that allows them to communicate with one another.
Some may take issue with the way that this narrative anthropomorphizes plant life. Though it may be true they communicate with one another, it’s obviously very different from how humans (or even animals) interact. Wohlleben brushes these criticisms aside, however – in an interview with Treehugger, he explained, “I use a very human language. Scientific language removes all the emotion, and people don’t understand it anymore. When I say, ‘Trees suckle their children,’ everyone knows immediately what I mean.”
Intelligent Trees can be streamed at Vimeo On Demand or purchased on DVD.