Upon reading about pine trees, I found that one common issue with the growth and spread of the tree is inbreeding depression. While I initially was struck with the thought of, “What does depression look like for trees? Do trees have emotions?” it turns out that inbreeding depression is a complicated situation of genotype processing. There are inbred and outbred trees; from what I can tell, it has to do with the pollination of the plants, and leads to some trees or pine forests doing worse than others. If you understand scientific and biological jargon and want to look further into this, you can find information on the study here.
Though trees may not have clinical depression, there are theories that trees experience feelings.
Peter Wohlleben argues that trees live in communities, and I can’t help but agree in looking at the Guilford woods. The trees grow in a way that allow others to continue to thrive. They work together; their crowns reach higher and higher, but still offer light to younger trees whose crowns are still forming.
Trees can warn each other of danger – they tell one another, through various releases of chemicals, when an animal is eating one. Wohlleben even says that they “register pain.” I gently touch a pine tree, and wonder if they can register a hug. I hug the tree, and the bark flakes stick to my shirt. I don’t feel the tree hugging back, and I feel a little ridiculous.
Do the trees in the Guilford woods have personalities? Are there trees who refuse to shed their needles, who are still holding onto 30-year-old leaves for sentimentality? How do these trees feel when it rains, when their pinecones are washed away? Do they know which trees have grown from their own seeds? Do they protect? Where are their emotions stored?
I don’t know why I feel comforted by trees sometimes. Why, in their looming over me, huge trunks that I’ve been warned since I was a kid could crush me instead comfort me. They don’t feel anything about me. They don’t notice me. I am nothing, and yet I’m also here.
Trees will scream at a frequency humans cannot here. When they are thirsty, they scream. This does not bring the rain. It does not bring water to the roots. But, still, the trees scream and I can’t help but wonder who they’re screaming for. Will anyone hear their sadness? Do the other trees share the desperation? If they can scream, why not sing, too?
The biology department did not have answers as to whether my Prozac would help a tree with its depression. More research needed.