You’re a Tree

You’re a tree. Maybe you’ll take it as a compliment, maybe an insult. But actually you are very like a tree. You and that oak or ash tree, not much different.

Trees are sociable. Perhaps because they just are, but also because they’ve worked out they need to be. Trees survive better in groups, in stands, in forests, than they do as a single tree stuck out in a meadow.

Or the last tree standing after the loggers have been through.

They need each other to form the right ecosystem. They need the right humidity down there under the crown, down among the trunks and understory. Standing close they stand strong, able to withstand strong winds and winter gales.

Their roots systems intertwine, and through that they can communicate. They can pass information about bugs and threats. They can even pass food from one to another. During the winter an evergreen will feed a deciduous tree that has shed its leaves and in summer that tree, in full leaf, will return the favour.

So they look after each other because together they’re stronger. We’re much the same. Loners, outliers, often don’t live as long. We work better as a group, a stand and we’re happier and healthier when we help each other.

And you like the sun, right?

Just think when you’re on holiday somewhere sunny and warm. You’re aware of that yellow glow, that warmth, all day. Trees are like that but they don’t so much like the sun as need it, to convert sunlight into food. They’ll be competitive about getting as much sun as possible, spreading their branches and leaves out as far as they can.

You think we’re different? Have you ever seen the way people lie on beaches, soaking up as much sun as possible over as large a surface area as possible? Have you ever seen the battles to get the sun loungers?

And how irritated are you if you’re lying there, eyes closed, soaking up the rays, and someone comes along and casts shade on you? Trees are like that, but they just move slower.

And trees keep their young close. This is something we could remember rather better. The young often grow up literally in the shade of their parents. We’re told that that is bad for humans and young. That as soon as they can, the youngsters need to spread their wings, stand on their own two feet, fly the nest and so on.

Young trees grow slow, almost stunted, growing in little light because their parent takes most of it. That doesn’t sound good does it?

But the young growing slow means they grow strong, straight, with well-developed roots. The parent will give food to its young and we’ve found that it will also favour its young over others that need food. It’s well protected from storms and lashing rain.

And then one day, usually at least a hundred years later, which is no time for a tree, it gets its chance in the sun. How? Because the parent topples.

The old tree leaves a gap in the canopy and the young tree is perfectly placed to take that space. The parent has given everything for its young and even its death benefits the youngster.

We humans have decided not to wait, but to go out on our own early, and we see lots of lanky, not well formed young who are not very strong. They’re blown about by every passing wind. They look tall but they’re weak and the first heavy storm — they’ll break. They have no roots.

We can learn from trees, but underneath it all there’s another similarity. People love the worldwide web. They use it to stay in contact, to exchange information, gossip, and a hundred other reasons.

Trees do the same, sort of.

Under every forest is what researchers are calling the wood-wide web. A mass of fungus, called mycelium, connects all the tree roots, every tree in a forest. It can sprawl miles underground. That’s how trees mostly communicate, through this web of tree roots and fungus. They pass food, information and much more we don’t know yet through their wood-wide web.

As far as we know they don’t use this wood-wide web for gossip or making nasty comments about their neighbour but we don’t really know!

See, we’re not much different. And where we are different, we’re not necessarily better.

Maybe we should be more tree.

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