I wrote a blog recently on how all trees across the globe have the ability to heal people. For me there is one species though that I find particularly special. It is called the Apple Leaf.

My sense of kinship with this tree and the extremity of my fear response if anyone drives within ‘squashing range’ of a young one is so strong that I get teased about it by the rest of the ranging team. I have always found them to hold such an innate quirkiness and sense of humour. Very often they grow on their own; solitary figures in the savannah, seemingly unafraid to do things their own way. They grow at crazy angles, exploring whatever direction they feel drawn to and their resultant form is one of such beautiful individuality. Some look to me like ‘hippy’ woman and they each seem to have such interesting personalities and stories to tell. But what strikes me most about these trees is how gentle and slow they allow their growth process to be.

Apple leaf, tree, Amy Attenborough

One of my favourite Apple Leaf trees. All photographs to follow are different individuals of the same species.

So much of what I struggle with is chasing a sense of purpose. I get attached to the idea that there are things to be done and places to be and that when I get there, I’ll get the sense of satisfaction I’m looking for. When I’m there, then I can rest. When I’m there, everything will be perfect. What these trees teach me though is that here is where they rest, here is where their purpose is, and most importantly, here is where they’re at home.

They seem to understand that home is not some place outside of themselves, some end goal, but a place created within. And whatever direction it is that they’re growing in, they allow the process to be slow.

Apple leaf, tree, Amy Attenborough

In fact, Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees, actually argues that this slow growth is core to their success. In forests, mother trees actually prevent their young saplings from shooting for the sky by shading their offspring with their large, mature crowns. In the forests Wohlleben studied, the parent trees only allowed through three percent of sunlight, just enough for the young plant to survive. This may seem cruel but in fact it is an act of kindness because slow growth is key to the long life span of a tree. With slow growth, the inner woody cells stay tiny and contain almost no air, which make the trees much more flexible and resistant to breaking. Wind storms can hit a tree with the equivalent force of 220 tons and if there is a weak spot, the trunk will easily snap. This slow growth makes them much more hardy.

apple leaf, tree, amy attenborough

The tough trunks also help to protect the young tree from fungi infestations and they can manage injuries because they easily compartmentalise the wound before any decay occurs. Then years later (like a crazy two hundred years later in the case of beech trees!) when the mother tree dies and comes crashing to the forest floor, it opens a gap for the younger tree to get sunlight exposure and thus shoot for the sky. It can then grow rapidly but with an incredibly sturdy foundation. Years of patience pay off and it can grow to become a forest giant, with deep tapping, well-established roots that then give rise to the next generation of saplings.

apple leaf, tree, amy attenborough

A friend recently shared this poem by Herman Hesse, which in the most beautiful way, captured these thoughts for me on how trees, through stillness, patience and an ancient intelligence, create a sense of home within themselves.

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves…

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

apple leaf, tree, amy attenborough

The path to healing lies inside you. And when you can learn to carry the forest within you, you realise there is nothing to be done, there is nowhere you need to be. “Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is.” Knowing this, like the Apple Leaf, you are always home.

About the Author

Amy Attenborough

Media Team

Amy has a rich field-guiding history, having spent time at both Phinda and Ngala Game Reserves. This diversity of past guiding locations brought her an intimate understanding of different biomes across South Africa, and she immediately began making a name for herself as ...

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15 Comments

on Trees Teach us How To Be Home

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Lee
Guest

Beautiful! Sounds like LightWriting to me!

Andries
Guest

Agreed 100% on the Apple leaf – evidently free thinking individuals. Your photos of those all-by-themselves individuals really portray their character as you describe them.

My number one favourite is the Acacia sieberiana (although Australia has now unilaterally decided and convinced the international body that Acacia trees are indigenous to Down Under and South Africa is not allowed to name any indigenous tree Acacia anymore).

The Paper Bark thorn tree always seems to invite one to come into its shade and feel the curling petals of bark on its trunk, and even pull a few off to take with you.

Lorri
Guest

Beautiful, Amy. I love trees and I love what you have written…..home, home, steady strong but growing. Thanks

Jenny
Guest

Amy – so beautiful, thought provoking and grounding. Thank you again.

Rob Cooper
Guest

Spot on Amy. Regards, Rob

Dr. Ingo Meuthen
Guest

Dear Amy !
Thank you for your wonderful report !
Would it be possible, regarding on the trees phenotype, that it is related to the European olive trees ?
I did not yet ask my son today, who is an evolutionary biologist. What is your oppinion in this case ?
With my best regards
Ingo Meuthen

Amy Attenborough

Morning Ingo. I agree that these two species do have a rather similar look about them but from what I know, they are not related in any way. Let me know if your son has any more info on the matter.. Many thanks, Amy

Lea
Guest

Beautiful blog Amy. I love trees also and am considered a tree hugger. The trees featured in your blog are truly lovely and I really enjoyed the poem. Thank you for loving trees and thanks for doing this blog in tribute to trees.

Jeff Rodgers
Guest

One of the most beautiful, most poignant of all the Londolozi blog posts. Clearly your soul is very connected to the trees. Do you still occasionally guide?

Krishna Gailey
Guest

Amy, just loved your fabulous blog on Trees. my family can’t understand my fascination with trees, and now I can show them that I am certainly not alone. I also loved the poem. Thanks again.

Deb Kostantos
Guest

Dear Amy, I’m always happy to read your blogs, but both your articles on trees were especially thought provoking. I have always been in awe of trees and the beauty and character they bring to the world. I had never read that poem before. Thank you so much!

Debbie
Guest

Dear Amy, I’m always happy to read your blogs, but both your articles on trees were especially thought provoking. I have always been in awe of trees and the beauty and character they bring to the world. I had never read that poem before. Thank you so much!

Vikram Ghanekar
Guest

Thank you for a really thought provoking blog. Although I am not familiar with Apple leaf tree, I perfectly understand when you say it is your favourite tree. For me 2 trees will always be special. One is our own Banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) and second is the Baobab.
Cheers

Kim Jacobson
Guest

Thank you Amy for a beautifully presented article on Trees…….your love and deep understanding of Nature comes through in all your Blogs and I enjoy, learn and love every one you present.

Callum Evans

A beautiful post about incredible beings! I’m actually currently reading reading the very book that you referred to, it’s been an amazingly insightful read so far!

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