Origin of the Tree Hugger

I don’t know about you, but prior to my research, my mental imagery of a tree hugger was something like the following:


I was so ignorant about them that I just chalked it up to “nature people” that smoked a lot of weed and sang “kumbaya” around a campfire. You know, nice people that really liked trees. It seemed like an adequate analogy.

Little did I know of the 300-year-old history behind the act of “hugging” a tree, which actually originated from a very brave and tragic act of attempting to protect trees from harm.

The first tree huggers were 294 men and 69 women belonging to the Bishnois branch of Hinduism, who, in 1730, died while trying to protect the trees in their village from being turned into the raw material for building a palace. They literally clung to the trees, while being slaughtered by the foresters. But their action led to a royal decree prohibiting the cutting of trees in any Bishnoi village. And now those villages are virtual wooded oases amidst an otherwise desert landscape.


Photo: The village women of the Chipko (Chipko means “to cling”) movement in the early 1970s in the Garhwal Hills of India, protecting the trees from being cut down. – Avantgardens

The Bishnois inspired the Chipko movement that started in the 1970s when a group of peasant women in the Himalayan hills of northern India threw their arms around trees that were designated to be cut down. Within a few years, this tactic, also known as “satyagraha”, had spread across India, ultimately forcing reforms in forestry and a moratorium on tree felling in Himalayan regions.

These brave women and men felt a kinship with nature and everything in it and were willing to give up their lives protecting it. Something the world seems to be lacking today for the most part.

Did you know that trees have a “pulse”?

Trees don’t seem to do all that much. Occasionally their branches might sway in the breeze and many of them drop leaves on a regular basis. But it seems there’s a lot more going on with trees that we thought.

Researchers have found that, at night, many trees periodically move their branches up and down slightly. This suggests that perhaps the trees are pumping water upwards slowly, hinting that the trees have some semblance of a pulse.

“We’ve discovered that most trees have regular periodic changes in shape, synchronized across the whole plant and shorter than a day-night cycle, which imply periodic changes in water pressure,” András Zlinszky of Aarhus University in the Netherlands told New Scientist.

For a 2017 study, Zlinszky and his colleague Anders Barfod used high-resolution terrestrial laser scanning, a technique often used in civil engineering to measure buildings. They surveyed 22 trees representing different species over a 12-hour period during a windless night to see if their canopies changed.

In several of the trees, branches moved by about a centimeter up or down. Some moved as much as 1.5 centimeters.

Here is the changing of movement charted in a magnolia tree.

Here’s the change of movement charted in a magnolia tree. (Photo: András Zlinszky/Twitter)

Looking for a heartbeat

After studying the nocturnal tree activity, the researchers came up with a theory about what the movement means. They believe the motion is an indication that trees are pumping water up from their roots. It is, in essence, a type of “heartbeat.”

Zlinszky and Barfod explain their theory in their newest study in the journal Plant Signaling and Behavior.

“In classical plant physiology, most transport processes are explained as constant flows with negligible fluctuation in time, especially at the level of the entire plant, or on timescales shorter than a day,” Zlinszky told New Scientist. “No fluctuations with periods shorter than 24 hours are assumed or explained by current models.”

But the researchers aren’t sure how a tree successfully manages to pump water from its roots upwards to the rest of its body. They suggest maybe the trunk gently squeezes the water, pushing it upwards through the xylem, a system of tissue in the trunk whose main job is to transport water and nutrients from roots to shoots and leaves.

Circadian movements

In 2016, Zlinszky and his team released a study showing that birch trees “go to sleep” at night.

The researchers believe the dropping effect of birch branches before dawn is caused by a decrease in the tree’s internal water pressure. With no photosynthesis at night to drive the conversion of sunlight into simple sugars, trees likely conserve energy by relaxing branches that would otherwise be angled towards the sun.

These birch movements are circadian, following the day-night cycle. However, researchers don’t believe the newly discovered movements are similar because they typically follow much shorter time periods.


You are a part of nature. Never forget that and the responsibility you have in protecting her for the future generations. If you don’t have anybody to hug, hug a tree. They freely give without any thought receiving in return.
















And for those people who treat Mother Nature with contempt, she has a darker and comical side.


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