Heart to Heart

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Carol Arnold explores whether trees can be said to have a heart.

A friend recently asked if I was aware that trees have beating hearts. I was flattered that she thinks of me as someone so well versed in science that I might know such a thing. I’m actually more into the metaphysical aspects of nature but love the scientific too. How else can I fully understand the mysteries of nature without knowing at least some of what makes them tick?

Intrigued, I told my friend I would do some research. The first thing I found of course is that a tree doesn’t have a heart exactly. At least not one that looks anything like ours - a red, muscular organ with arteries, aortas, and veins, all of which pump life-promoting substances around our bodies until one day they decide they’ve had enough.

Looks aside, scientists recently discovered that trees do have something that functions very much like a heart. When carefully studied, trees have been observed ever-so-slightly raising and lowering their branches and boughs, not pushed by any gentle wind. The purpose, scientists believe, is to pump nutrients throughout the tree to keep it healthy and growing. Sounds like a beating heart to me.

Knowing that a tree has at least a kind of heart touches me deeply. Trees have gotten a bad rap lately as destructive conveyers of wildfires. Our President demands more trees be cut and the leaves and twigs underneath be raked up. He seems to have forgotten all the wonderful things trees do for us. They provide shade and warmth, building materials, food, wildlife habitat, incredible beauty. Perhaps most important of all, they protect the planet from the worst of climate change by sequestering carbon.


A contractor once told me that the wood in my house probably came from some ancient redwood forest up north. As I think of this now, I feel hugely grateful for the trees’ many years of service. Thank you, lovely redwoods, for giving up your beating heart to shelter me. Thanks, from the bottom of my heart to the bottom of yours.

With a Perspective, I’m Carol Arnold.

Carol Arnold is a retired environmental planner living in San Francisco.