I don’t want to admit that summer is over, but as sad as I am about that, I’m thankful that my favorite season in Maine is upon us. I mean, Maine has to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth in September.
Of course, it’s the trees that do it for me. I grew up in the flat part of Texas with no trees, and I remember being a little girl and wishing so badly to live in a place with trees that turned beautiful colors when I grew up. I’ve really always loved trees, so I definitely live in the right place.
Recently, however, my love of trees has grown. When I started homeschooling my son, we began a research project on trees, and I couldn’t believe how much I didn’t know. So I kept reading and researching on my own. Recently, I read the book The Hidden Life of Trees, What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben, and I learned that trees are even more beautiful, mysterious, and magical than I could’ve imagined.
I wanted to devote this week’s post, just in time for fall, to some of the fascinating facts I’ve learned about trees, so you can maybe enjoy this beautiful season even more. I think you’ll be impressed at just how magnificent trees really are.
- Trees take their time. Although young trees can grow very quickly, it turns out that this is not best for them. So, in a forest, mother trees block light from the younger trees, which makes them grow slowly—and sturdily. So, by the time the older mother trees die, the younger trees that have made it long enough, are strong, straight, and sturdy enough to continue the species. Slow is good, and mother knows best. Tolkien had it right. Of course he did.
- Trees live in their roots long after they’ve been cut down. It seems there may be some disagreement now among scientists about when a tree is “dead” because they’ve found that trees live on, sharing nutrients and connecting with other trees, even after they’ve been cut down to stumps. In his book, Wohlleben describes a spruce tree with young shoots, but thanks to carbon 14 dating, scientists found the tree’s root system to be 9,550 years old!
- Trees seem to learn. Trees and their roots actually make changes in their growing patterns based on lessons learned related to damage and availability of resources. One fascinating example of this can be seen in forests without many resources compared to forests with plentiful resources. Trees in forests without much in the way of water and nutrients learn to take it easy and grow very slowly. Trees in forests plentiful in water and nutrients haven’t learned this lesson, so drought can be particularly damaging to them. But, after the damage, many of those trees learn the lesson as well. Tree roots will even change directions based on locations of rocks and resources. This doesn’t surprise me a bit though because I watch the plants in my garden. They really do seem to be figuring things out.
- Trees help each other out. Probably one of the most interesting things I learned from Wohlleben’s book and other forest researchers is that trees will work together and actually help each other out. Not all trees do. Apparently, some are competitive, but many species of trees will share nutrients amongst each other, even with different species of trees. It’s like they get that the health of the forest benefits all of them, and they’re in this thing together. Mother trees that have died will spend their last years pushing their resources back into the root and fungi network to give it to other trees.
- When trees’ leaves turn the beautiful shades of red, orange, and yellow we see here in Maine, they’re pulling the chlorophyll out of their leaves, pulling in their water, and getting ready for winter. After a summer of hard work, trees need a rest, and they can’t go into the winter full of water, as it would be harmful to them. So, when the light starts to fade and the temperatures cool, the trees get ready for their “winter hibernation.” And, here’s a really cool fact: The beautiful, bright colors we see send signals to insects that these trees are healthy and able to defend themselves in the spring. They don’t really want those insects laying eggs in them, and the colors tell insects not to bother.
So when you’re out enjoying the beautiful show the trees give us this fall, just know there’s so much more to these beautiful “beings” than most of us are aware. And, if you’re interested in a life-changing read, check out Peter Wohlleben’s book. I’ve always loved trees, but I find myself giving them some hugs now, crazy as that sounds, just in case. You don’t have to tell me about anthropomorphism. I get it. But it seems the more I read about plants and animals the more I see that we have in common, and that can’t be a bad thing. My husband still chops down trees when necessary, but I’m certainly more respectful.
Right now, I’m just thankful for the colorful display we’re about to witness. Because one fact that’s not in any book I’ve read on trees is that the beautiful colors of fall help me prepare mentally for winter and feel thankful for all that Nature gives us.