Bert Barten


Amsterdam based musician, theater director, artist and composer. Famous for both his massive stage productions combining theater, film, music, visuals arts and dance, as well as his work regarding environmental and corporate social responsibility. Creator of Talking Trees, the project that lets the audience experience nature through music.

K: Okay so I have the first question and it is how would you describe tree language what are the layers of this way of communication. 

B: The language of trees. Language is a difficult thing, because and you have an alphabet and things like that and the trees, didn't designed it themselves you know sort of what I see in trees I see that they there are from vibrations in trees and around trees. Vibrations are also in sap flows and go from one tree to the other that's also. They warning each other there is this communication going around. So I can pick up the vibrations from the trees and listen to that and hear that and that changes all day in different situations. And if you call it the language of trees. I don't know it is a difficult thing you know. 


The language of trees and and and I think also language is a virus between human beings 

Because it's so used and misused so many times you know that. If you listen to politicians you know then really then it is a virus. So I tried to stay as clean as possible just sit there and listen and I called a deep listening. And if you listen very deep you can really hear the grass grow. 

K: Also like us we talked a few minutes before, it's also like I kind of agree that the language might be a wrong choice of word, because like the thing is the communication between them I think this is the most important thing for me. So like the way how they are communicating and also maybe the choice of language might be a problem because it's already apply so many of our concepts on this.  


B: Yeah that's a thing. This language is a difficult thing even between human beings so maybe we should talk about keeping it as pure as possible. Listening into trees listening into vibrations. What you heard there is like a Morse sign language which you know if you really want to look at it that's a nice thing, I think that is to say that is the language. [3:08]

K: Okay perfect let's go to the next one. How would you describe your relation with nature? Did you ever befriend a tree? Do you have a representative of nature kingdom that is significantly important for you? And here at the very beginning we can already skip the part about befriending a tree as we talked about going nuts. [3:29]


B: Well the first thing is also interesting it was the first thing you said how would you describe your relation with nature yeah that's a very interesting thing. I'm a part of nature so I don't have a relation with it, I'm nature. So there’s no division into nature outside, seperate from me and the nature here, that is meall the time. I'm a part of it. And what human beings do is they put nature outside of them, there is a nature and here I am. No you are it, it's one thing you know. If you do damage yourself you damage nature and the other way around. So that's it, and I think we lost that connection and all the work I do is to reconnect with nature that's the message I have. How do we reconnect with nature so that we are convinced that we are part of nature. Now Frank Rijkaard is a football player, I don't know if you know him but his father came over from Surinam to Netherlands and as part of my work I had a chance to interview him. So I asked the father of Frank Rijkaard the same question „What do you think of nature”. And he couldn't answer the question, because for him it was so obvious that nature and he was one, so he couldn't answer the question. I remember him just looking at me asking what I mean and me trying to explain it again and again. He simply didn't know what I wanted. And then I realised he is the man who is so connected to nature that he doesn't understand the question. And I think a lot of indigenous people have the same thing, if you ask them the question they would have different than our western opinion of understanding the nature. So that's what I can say about it. [5:23]


K: As we already talked before about this, my personal example that I have is this one tree back in Poland, that is like a very significant thing for me. Do you have a piece of nature like this?


B: It's like asking a father which of his childrens he loved more. And that's a difficult question. I was listening once to an oak tree and I love oak trees because there's a lot of wisdom in them and you were talking about pine trees I was walking in the forest enough I find is that it'll find things so I was looking into the order is also beautiful I could make a choice oak tree, pine tree, you know ceder trees also and they smell so nice. It's difficult, I don't, as a father, I don't want to choose one child. 


K: Okay the third question what can we learn from the tree. 


B: Firstly, they live in a completely different time zones.


K: Yes! That's also something that I was reading a lot about. How the time passes for them completely differently.


B: If I'm sitting next to a tree you know, and I listen to it, let’s say for a day, what is a single day out of 400 years or something like that for it. This is a complete different time perception then we have. In Oxford in a church at university of Oxford and the oak beams of the church in case they would be, from generation to generation the the people who took care of the church the architects have planted a lot of oak trees so if the beans are gone you can go there, the trees are waiting for you so you can use this trees as wood to replace the beams so that's a time span of 400 years, and we humans are thinking in the quarterly so in the span of 3 months and in politics we are thinking for the span of 4 years you know, and that's horrible that's not a good time schedule. The time schedule to think about for 7 generations that's a nice time schedule that I learned from trees. It is a completely different time frame that we are living in, we only live for 80, 90 years you know and that's it. We think we will live forever but that's not true and if you're sitting next to a tree you can experience it and that's what I learned from trees.

K:That is really beautiful.

B: There are so many important messages I have and a lot more things to share. The other thing is if you sit under a tree and you look up you can see all these branches, left and right you know and things like that and it's it's like a character of human beings and I found a little book a few days ago about a guy who said the psychology of trees and you can look at the rings and see what what what kind of problems that tree had when growing up. Now if I look at branches as if looking at my own, human psychology I think you can really draw out the tree from where are all the emotional shifts that you had in your life, sometimes you go left and then you go right then you think let's go here, maybe if you want to go around it or something like. So if you do that with your own psychology /psyche/ and compare it to a tree that's just incredible. I always try to look at trees like that, what problems did you have to go left or rights and that is so nice to see.

K: That's also interesting in this example, because when you're looking at the really old symbols that we were using, like for example the genealogy tree or the decision tree, it all in a way represents this idea of how our way is going through and to me it seems like very beautiful symbol. 

B: This is really nice, that's what I learned from trees as well. Sometimes I see a branch and I think back to when I was 14 years old I had this thing you know and even like that yeah. This. Yeah can look into and also with the you know. 


K: Okay. Then next one may also be a difficult one, why is it so hard for people to understand that trees are alive and they have feelings. 


B: The last question is a difficult one it talks about feelings and I don't want to personalize trees they are trees. But the first one I think is that because people put nature outside o themselves. The nature is somewhere out there and we are out here. That's not the case, we are always a part of nature and because that connection is lost the people feel like they can do anything and the Christians faith was also like that you know, the notion that all of the nature is there for us, that she was made for us and we can use it, of course we can do that but the way we are doing it right now we can't put it outside of ourselves. When it doesn't have any relationship with ourselves it becomes a big problem at the moment. 

K: Do You see any solutions how we could go back. To the state of reconnection? 

B: I think it's not going back, but it's going forward to reinvent ourselves again as a human race and to reconnect to nature and that's a new form. When I look at my parents and especially with the context of the industrialisation after the World Wars, they were basically building up the country the economy and society that they simply forgot about a lot of things that have to do with this. When you go back even earlier. There is this completely different mentality, even a royalty in the older days you know they took care of their estates and the land was hand down from one generation to another generation and these family businesses are gone, now the companies would need to do that, but that is stupid because they don't care about it but the family does care, if you have to give it to your children. So we have to reconnect with that idea. Notion that we have to take care of the planet to give it to the next generation, but there must be a new form for it. I don't know how this form will come into being, but you can see it left and right that something new is coming and it's not going back it's going forwards and will reconnect in the future. 


K: I think it'll be a really toxic situation if we would start to make steps backwards.


B: To go back to the industrial age. Yes that's where we came from but I don't think we should go back there. Let's move away from pollution and coal.


K: Let's go to the next one. Do you think trees could be our allies with fighting against anthropocentric world and climate change? 


B: I think we must. That is just my first reaction you know in Netherlands they built all these big boxes these distribution centers they're building it now. So right now there's a lot of these boxes everywhere and there are no trees around them. If you would hide them in trees that could be a new way of doing it, but sometimes the legislation is saying that it's an industrial area and we cannot build trees. So we have to fix the way we look at nature. Some time ago I was talking to an architect and we talked how slowly we want be able to use all these land that we have now for building houses we have to find new solutions. Maybe a way to reconnect with nature is to build a house under the ground and then driving with your car in the garage and that's a lot of possibilities there's also possibility of building mountains so that you live in the mountains there's a lot of designs challenging the way we think about the way we live. Or some new ways of transportation, we have to look at how that might look in the future and there's a lot of ideas going around in architecture and landscape architecture especially. 


K: There is also a very interesting research going on, on the urban heat wave, there are so many voices directly pointing that the cause of the problem is the nonexistence of trees in the urban environment.


B: I'm working with this company in Amsterdam and all the trees that are taken out of the city are cut up by them and the objects I am making here are from the city trees. For trees it is difficult to live in the city but it's very important that they are there present and when we look outside of the city it’s not easy as well. We are shouting at Bolsonaro in Brazil that he's cutting down the trees, but look around here in the Netherlands every thing that you see is flat now but that was all forest swamps and forests. We have done exactly the same, we have cut down everything and now in the Netherlands 80 percent what the land produces goes abroad for export. It look very strange such a small country cutting down all the trees and turn it into a farming land for the world and then we are shouting at someone else for doing the same thing, of course it's still wrong what he's doing but it's also wrong what we we have done and how we are treating nature. I made a proposition for a few cities, if you're going to England you can see bushes around all the meadows. Now the subsidy here in the Netherlands is that if you would do that then the area that you plant and farm on becomes smaller and the size of subsidies would decrease. In the end the farmers don’t want to do it, but it's so necessary to build trees around all these meadows and bushes and things like that. So if we could say okay you can keep your subsidy but make forests around it then everybody would do it. There's a lot of things like that in the legislation around Europe that we have to change to make healthier environments. But I think slowly it's happening even though it's difficult as a lot of conservative power is opposing that progress especially when I talk to young people they are really interested in this topic. In the end that's what we have to do, encourage the change for better. 


K: I remember the last one. What's your favourite memory about a tree, if you have any?


B: That’s an interesting one. I think my first love experience was under a tree. And I always remembered having picnics under a tree when I was young. So that would be my favourite. My first kiss under tree. 


K: That was my last question. Because I also tried to answer all those questions and I was thinking about it a lot, like I do remember those first memories when I was climbing on the trees so it was like this moments of when the adrenaline is going up because you're getting higher and higher and this of course means that it’s getting more difficult to go down but there is still something, something inside that is like telling me to go higher and higher. I still like all of those situations when I had to ask for help my dad to go down because I got stucked when it was already too high for a child me to go down. It's also difficult for me to pick only one tree.

B: That was the one with the biggest impact. What I also did in the forest was digging holes and pathways around to see how it goes from one place to another all these roots of the trees that you can see in the forest. Ones I made the whole system in the forest with my friends. That's also a thing that I remember even earlier. But emotionally it was that kiss that popped up first in my head.



Frantisek Baluska


Institute of Cellular and Molecular Biology; University of Bonn, Germany

František Baluška is interested in plant roots, cytoskeleton, polarity and tip-growth, endocytosis, vesicle recycling, plant signaling, plant behavior, and evolution of the eukaryotic cell. He has founded together with the Landes Bioscience two new scientific journals: Plant Signaling & Behavior and Communicative & Integrative Biology. He is also editor of the book series entitled ‘Signaling and Communication in Plants’ at the Springer Verlag. He is the author of over 160 papers.

1. How would you describe tree language? What are the layers of this way of communication? 


We still do not know if there is something as a tree language. But it is known that trees exchange signals via diverse volatile chemicals aboveground. The same is true also for roots which communicate besides volatiles also via exudates and fungal networks of symbiotic fungi. The next possibility would be communication via acoustic waves, electromagnetic fields and plant-specific vision based on plant ocelli.


2. How would you describe your relation with nature? Did you ever befriend a tree? Do you have representative of nature kingdom that is significantly important to you?


My relation with nature is via my enjoying being surrounded by plants, especially trees. These are really enigmatic organisms as some of them can live up to several thousand years or reach more than 100 meters of their aboveground shoot parts, such as sequoia trees. But these trees must have immense root systems (as shoot-root biomass is about 1:1).


3. What can we learn from the tree?


We can learn from them how to network and co-operate on large scale without endanger the nature and climate.


4. Why is it so hard for people to understand that trees are alive and that they have feelings? What can be done to change that perspective?


This is maybe question for psychologists and sociologists. For me, it was absolutely natural to consider them for living organisms since my childhood. We hope that by studying plants from the plant neurobiology perspective, we will improve this unhappy situation. We will change this perspective only after our society will accept that plants, and especially trees, are truly living organisms which should be treated with dignity. The only country which is so far is Switzerland (Koechlin F. The dignity of plants. Plant Signal. Behav. 4: 78-79, 2009).


5. Do you think trees could be our ally with fighting against anthropocentric world
and climate change?


Definitely, deforestation is one of the major problems in our difficult times with climate change. Important for the climate are especially intact ecosystems such as they can still be found in the Amazon area. We have recently published a paper in the EMBO Reports ‘Plants, Climate and Humans - Plant Intelligence Changes Everything’ in which we tackle several of these issues. It is important to be aware that plants are the only multicellular organism living both in underground (pedosphere) and aboveground (atmosphere) environments.


6. What’s your most precious memory about tree?


There are many, it is not impossible to select any particular one.





State Forests National Forest Holding, is a Polish governmental organization that manages state-owned Polish forests on behalf of the Polish State Treasury. Founded in 1924 it oversees about 7.5 million hectares (an area that constitutes about 25% of Poland's territory) of forested terrain.


Elizabeth Van Volkenburgh


Is a Professor of Plant Science at the University of Washington. She has served as the President of the society for Plant Signaling and Behavior. She has led the Plant Growth Lab at the University of Washington for over thirty years. Her work considers the physiological regulation of leaf expansion in crop plants. She has also studied plant growth and photobiology, as well as drought stress and genetic variation.

1. How would you describe tree language? 


If there is such a thing as tree language, I take it to mean a way that trees can communicate with each other and with other organisms.  There is good evidence that trees emit volatile from their leaves  mixtures of compounds, and those emissions communicate tree status to other organisms.  I think there is also evidence that trees emit soluble compounds from their roots, and these compounds will provide information to other roots, fungi and organisms in the soil.  As well, it is likely that tree leaves, branches on the same tree or on different trees can detect leaves and canopies via light wavelengths transmitted through leaves and canopies, or reflected off trees and canopies.  The complexion of the wavelengths would also contain information.


What are the layers of this way of communication? 


I’m not sure what is meant by layers.  In all three of these cases, volatile compounds, soluble compounds, and light wavelengths, the material presented by the source tree is a ‘cocktail’ or mixture of compounds/wavelengths.  Perhaps there can be layers in the composition and timing of these emissions.


2. How would you describe your relation with nature? 


Being in nature is calming to me.  I have been a hiker and a swimmer in lakes and the ocean.  I enjoy being around plants, flowers, trees, ferns, forests, fields, out in the open.


Did you ever befriend a tree? 


No, not really.  We have a very large and very old silver maple in our back yard that is familiar, and has been part of my surroundings for over 30 years.  I am familiar with it, and also with the very large and very old California Bay tree in my neighbor’s yard.  I would miss them if they were gone.


Do you have representative of nature kingdom that is significantly important to you?


Probably the part of nature that comes to mind as important to me is the old growth forest of the Pacific Northwest coast in North America.


3. What can we learn from the trees and the nature?


That there are significant organisms that differ from us; that life happens and keeps happening among organisms that have no brains no nerves no ways of humans that we can detect; that life happens slowly but continually; that we are much less significant (humans are) than we like to think.


4. Why currently is it so hard for people to acknowledge the significance of existence of trees? 


Probably because so many people have no experience with trees and forests, and also, maybe because we are mostly self-centered humans, and with all the stressors of living in cities or towns we look even more to ourselves and to each other, and ignore other beings that are not human-like.


What can be done to change that perspective?


Give people more opportunities to walk, outside, and to experience parks, trees, flowers, gardens, urban plantings, rural plantings, wild lands.  Maybe we could cut electricity to most people once a week and they would have to stop watching their shows and have to go outside!


5. Do you think trees could be our ally with fighting against anthropocentric world and climate change?


In a way, yes.  If we (who know what trees are, organisms worthy of our respect) can protect them sufficiently, then we can also share their being-ness with our fellow humans.


6. What’s your most precious memory about tree?


 When I was a little girl, I convinced my younger brother to climb the very tall evergreen tree in our grandparents’ back yard.  Once we were at the top, the wind started blowing and we had a wonderful time swaying back and forth, hollering into the wind, feeling supported and free at the same time.  Of course, later, 





Professor at Rice University and a member of the object-oriented philosophy movement. His work studies the intersection of food and culture especially in the work of Percy and Mary Shelley as well as ecological criticism proposing that nature exists as something that sustains civilization, but exists outside of society's walls. His reinterpretation of the term Hyperobjects (understood as objects massively distributed in time and space as to transcend localization, such as climate change and styrofoam) started a new debate in philosophy about impact of human actions on the present and future reality.

1. How would you describe tree language? What are the layers of this way of communication? 


Science now knows that trees do communicate by sharing chemicals. Trees communicate with mammals like me by providing shade, dappling the space above me, moving, shifting. Tree communication is highly ambiguous. 


2. How would you describe your relation with nature? Did you ever befriend a tree? Do you have representative of nature kingdom that is significantly important to you?


I have befriended many trees. The pecan tree in my back garden right now is my latest friend. A very special bearded dragon lizard called Nicodemus was my special representative. They died this year. 


3. What can we learn from the trees and the nature?


I’m not the right person to answer this question because I don’t think the idea of nature does anything helpful at all. We are all part of the biosphere. I’m not sure we can “learn” anything—this sounds too theistic to me. 


4. Why currently is it so hard for people to acknowledge the significance of existence of trees? What can be done to change that perspective?

I’m not sure that’s true. All the big cities I’ve lived in have had huge numbers of trees. Sacramento in California, near to where I used to live, won a prize for being an urban forest. Unfortunately business totally acknowledges the existence of trees as potential money, usually to be burned down to turn the land into cow feed lots, as in the Amazon. 


5. Do you think trees could be our ally with fighting against anthropocentric world and climate change?




6. What’s your most precious memory about tree?


I have meditated for hours under some trees. There is one tree in Wimbledon Common in London in whose roots I sat as if it was Captain Kirk’s seat in the Starship Enterprise, meditating for hours.