"Tree school” as Peter Wohlleben says in his book, The Hidden Life of Trees, “teaches that trees grow straight and tall with branches coming out at predictable intervals. Roots stretch out perfectly below.” When you enter a forest, you will notice exactly what Peter is referring to. Tall, straight and beautiful trees. You will also often see this in city yards and parks. But occasionally you will find a tree that does not conform and this non-conformity may happen in a forest, or in a backyard or in a city park. What is the tree’s reason for this “misbehaviour”? Is the tree trying to break the rules, or throw off its centre of balance just to drive you crazy?
The answer is a definite no. Trees are always searching for balance, as I suppose you could say, every creature is, so if a tree is reaching out or growing oddly, in your mind, it is always with good reason. In backyard gardens the reason is more often than not that it is reaching for sunlight. Perhaps it has a better chance of getting more sun if it bends a certain way, or puts out more branches in one direction. Ultimately this behaviour results in
increased photosynthesis and as a result, the creation of more sugars.
For a tree, more sugars means more bargaining power. Trees actually exchange sugars with fungi (mychorizal fungi to be more specific) for the minerals they need to grow tall, strong and healthy. When all of the necessary minerals are present, a tree can grow very strong and disease and infestation-free into the future. You might even say that this tree is thriving when it has this strong community and connection to the fungus. In fact when a treeisthriving, it can detect exactly whois nibbling on its branches and can send out a message to all available predators to come and enjoy a great feast! A truly organic method of pest control. This same tree can then communicate with other trees via its root system and previously mentioned mychorizal fungus to share the news. Wohlleben calls this news-sharing method the WWW (Wood Wide Web). This WWW allows trees to communicate and share important information with its community, such as who is in the neighbourhood nibbling away and how to protect yourself from suffering this same fate. Surrounding trees can then take action to protect their own leaves by sending bitter compounds into them making them distasteful to whatever vegetarian has been feasting on its neighbour.
Sunlight is important for trees. One of the few reasons trees will stretch out in seemingly “odd” directions is therefore for the specific purpose of reaching for light. In other words, for survival.
When a tree does so on a city lot, however, home owners start to panic. Their yards aren’t looking how they think they should look. It is perceived that their tree isn’t following the rules of “Tree School” and people often take
action at this point. People will tie trees into an upright position for example, making their yard once again look aesthetically pleasing to them (despite all of the ropes that are strangling their shrubbery). This need to “control” the greenery around us is innate it seems, and we are just trying to be good humans, but consider that we are also undermining the innate intelligence of the plants around us and limiting their ability to fend for themselves in acing out in this way. It turns out that trees doknow how to fend for themselves. Imagine!
This does not necessarily refer to a brand newly purchased tree that may need some support, nutrition, water and mulch until its roots become established and can henceforth support itself. When a new tree is planted, it may need some staking for the first 6-12 months to ensure it doesn’t just get blown over. Please be sure to remove the stakes after this settling in period however to avoid damaging the tree, and use ties that are loose and cushioned (foam covered wire for example) until you feel it will stand on its own. Most trees don’t need staking, but occasionally one does, depending on its exposure and variety.
Trees are innately intelligent and know what to do to survive. They have existed on this planet long before humans and will likely continue to exist well after humans. Consider that trees can, and do, look out for themselves, and perhaps this will give us the understanding we need to stop abusing and pushing our own ideals onto the plant life that we are oh-so-fortunate to have around us. Instead of restraining or cutting a tree today, thank it for the oxygen it produces, the carbon sink it creates and for its beauty and greenery that makes us so happy to be alive!