"The Lungs Of The Earth"

My book group is reading a fascinating non-fiction book this month. It is The Treeline by Ben Rawlence. ( See review elsewhere on this website.) If I was interested in plants before I wrote Joyous Lies, my novel about a botanist, I now devour every new book about plants, including trees and their amazing properties. Trees are, as Rawlence puts it, the lungs of the earth.

My book group is reading a fascinating non-fiction book this month. It is The Treeline by Ben Rawlence. (See review elsewhere on this website.) If I was interested in plants before I wrote Joyous Lies, my novel about a botanist, I now devour every new book about plants, including trees and their amazing properties. Trees are, as Rawlence puts it, the lungs of the earth.

I wrote most of Joyous Lies in 2019 and 2020, long before The Treeline came out and a few months before the tree researcher Suzanne Simard hit the bestseller list with her wonderful book, Finding the Mother Tree. Simard, a forest scientist in British Columbia, proved that trees protect their young and their kin through a fungal network underground, the wood-wide web.

Now researchers are finding that plants share much of their DNA with the animal kingdom. Or, more accurately, we share it with them, since plants came first. So, some of the more adventurous researchers propose that they have senses as we do. Plants see, we know that because they turn sunlight into food and oxygen. And they respond to touch. They entice insects through scent, so perhaps they can actually smell as well as emit fragrance.

But when I created Joyous Lies, and my botanist character Maelle with her belief that plants can hear, I was out on a limb. At that time there were only a few researchers who claimed that plants could sense sound. I imagined an experiment in which Maelle proves that her tomato plants hear and “talk” to warn their neighbors of an approaching caterpillar.

This was pure fiction as far as I was concerned. So imagine my surprise when I read The Treeline and discovered this: Pine trees produce volatile organic compounds to send signals to one another in the forest to deter herbivores or insects. “These tiny molecules carry pine scent and bounce sunlight back into space,” according to the author, allowing the trees to detect one another. And, “Through the structure of their cells, trees can capture reverberations and “hear” sounds around them as well as ultrasound far away. Pines can detect the familiar presence of rustling needs or the crack of a falling tree…”

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

Let's Be Social

Join Our Community

Sign up to receive email for the latest information.

Search