Image Courtesy of Tom The Turtle

Believe it or not, trees can talk to each other! If this is news to you, that’s okay, we thought we’d share a bit more on the phenomenon that achieves far more than one might think.  

Trees communicate through the air, using pheromones and other powerful scent signals to warn each other of danger. In one of nature’s most remarkable examples, the wide-crowned umbrella thorn acacia, which happens to be a favourite food for giraffes, has developed a unique survival technique of its own. When a giraffe starts chewing acacia leaves, the injured tree emits a distress signal using ethylene gas. In response, neighbouring acacia trees pick up on this and begin pumping tannins into their leaves. When consumed in large quantities, these tannins can sicken or even kill the giraffes who consume them. Giraffes have learned to outsmart this early warning system though… after stealing leaves from one acacia they usually move 100 meters to only feed on trees that were not reached by the ethylene gas. 

Something similar happens with trees whose leaves contain tannins. With browsers like kudu and nyala sustaining themselves almost exclusively on these kinds of tree leaves, the trees had to come up with a defence mechanism. When a browser starts feeding on a tree, its tannin levels begin to rise to a point where the leaves become bitter, which is a function of tannin. The browser will then leave this distasteful tree and move to the next available tree in search of one that tastes better. This high tannin level can remain in the tree for up to 2 weeks, preventing any further browsing and giving the tree a chance to recover.

When fresh trees get browsed and tannins begin to rise, the trees release a pheromone which gets carried downwind to neighbouring trees. This also raises their tannin levels in anticipation of an attack. Studies and field observations have shown that browsers are quick to outsmart this though by feeding into prevailing winds to feed on unaffected, unwarned trees. 

Take in the flora and fauna of majestic Zambia when you plan your escape with Zambezi Grande. From world-class safaris to bucket list sightings, inspired cuisine and heart-warming hospitality, every stay is set to be a bucket list one. To book one of our final stays before we close for the season, call the Reservations team at If you’d like to view our current special offers, click here: