Do Trees Talk?

by Loreena Thiessen

Did you know that trees talk? Trees can tell you things if you know how to listen, or where to look. So what can they tell you?

First, trees can tell you about themselves. Choose a tree and look at its leaf. Is it a broad flat leaf? What about the edge of the leaf, is it lobed? Lobes are rounded parts, like an earlobe, all around the leaf edges. Is the edge smooth, or is it toothed? Oak leaves have lobes, while elm leaves are toothed. Trees with broad flat leaves are called deciduous. This means they lose their leaves every year. Trees with needles are coniferous; their seeds are pinecones. By looking at their leaves you can tell if a tree is deciduous or coniferous.

A tree can also tell you how old it is. Look at the rings on a freshly cut tree stump. Each ring stands for one year. Count them to see how old the tree is.

Another thing the rings can tell you is what the weather was like during each year of its growth. A wide ring means it was a rainy year. A narrow ring will tell you it was dry. Rings will show scars too. If the tree got burned in a forest fire it will show a blackened scar. After the fire new layers of wood grow around it but the scar remains visible.

Trees also talk to each other. They do this through their roots. A fungus grows around and in their roots. A fungus is like a mold. When bread or cheese goes bad it gets moldy. You may have seen spots of mold on old bread or cheese. This causes the food to rot. This is one example of a fungus.

The fungus on the roots of trees is not a bad fungus. Instead it helps the tree by making it possible for trees to share food and information with each other. The fungus provides the tree with nutrients, or food, and in return the fungus receives sugars from the tree. It’s a positive exchange between the roots of the tree and the fungus.

An older tree, or mother tree, will send sugars from its roots to the roots of a seedling, or young tree, to help it grow. The mother tree will also send messages to warn trees around it of danger. For example if there’s danger of an attack the mother tree will give off chemical signals to alert them. A chemical is a natural material that the tree produces, in this case to protect itself.

Loreena Thiessen

An example of a danger to trees is an attack by caterpillars that could eat all of its leaves. This would stop the tree from growing. In turn the chemicals stop the caterpillar from reproducing. Another example of danger is too much browsing by deer. In this case the tree produces more leaf tannin, an acid that makes the leaves taste bitter and the deer would eat less. In this way trees are able to protect themselves. By communicating they protect each other too.

The Bible often compares people to trees. Psalm 1:1–3 describes a tree that is rooted near water. Because it’s planted in the right place it will grow well and produce good fruit. It’s the same with people. Spend more time with friends and family who help you do the right thing, and study what God says, then you will be like that tree; you will prosper.

Activity: A Tree Story

Need: pencil, notebook, pencil crayons, and a tree.

Do:

  1. Choose one tree in your backyard, in your neighbourhood, or in a park.
  2. Observe the tree. What kind is it? Look at its leaves, its bark, its shape, flowers or fruit.
  3. Who lives in it? Does it have a nest? Any squirrels?
  4. Ask someone who knows about the tree. Who owns it? How old is it? When was it planted? Is it famous? Has it survived any disasters like fire, bad weather, disease, or pests?
  5. Take notes as you discover facts about the tree.
  6. Draw the tree.

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