Do Trees Feel Fear?

BOO! Did we startle you? Okay, we’re not very good at surprising people. We wouldn’t want anyone to feel scared in Wonderopolis, anyway! However, some people enjoy being scared. They read ghost stories to experience goosebumps. Sometimes, they scare themselves by visiting eerie places. They even watch scary movies to feel terrified!

The term “terrified” comes from the Greek word petro, which means “rock” or “stone.” During Halloween, you might hear people say they’re petrified. They mean they’re extremely scared of something. So scared that they’ve turned into stone and can’t move! If you ever find yourself petrified, you might be standing as motionless as a tree in a petrified forest.

Petrified wood is the scientific term for the fossilized remains of trees that have transformed into stone. This occurs through a process called “permineralization.” It takes millions of years for this to happen.

When trees die, sediment accumulates and buries them. The sediment first protects the wood by preventing oxygen from entering. This prevents the wood from decomposing. Over time, all the organic materials within the wood slowly decay and are replaced by minerals.

Where do the minerals come from? Water flows through the sediment. As it does, it deposits minerals into the wood’s cells. The plant cells within the wood decay, and a stone mold forms in their place.

Petrified wood is distinct from other types of fossils. Most fossils are impressions of plants or animals in rock. Petrified wood, however, is a three-dimensional fossil that preserves the original structure of the wood.

Petrified wood aids scientists in studying plants from millions of years ago. In fact, details such as tree rings can often be observed in great detail.

Often, petrified wood exhibits vibrant, beautiful colors. These colors result from the minerals that become a part of the wood through permineralization. Minerals like manganese, iron, and copper contribute to the vivid colors of petrified wood.

Petrified forests can be found all over the world. Some of the most well-known sites in the United States include Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, Petrified Wood Park in South Dakota, Mississippi Petrified Forest in Mississippi, and Escalante Petrified Forest State Park in Utah. Would you like to visit a petrified forest one day? Have you ever come across a piece of wood that seemed frightened? We hope today’s Wonder of the Day wasn’t too scary for you!

Try It Out

Have you ever been terrified? We hope you’re not afraid to try out these activities with a friend or family member:

  • If you live near an area with petrified wood, we encourage you to explore it. If not, you can virtually visit Petrified Forest National Park through pictures. Show a friend or family member your favorite pictures and explain why they’re interesting to you.

  • Up for a challenge? Try creating your own piece of petrified “wood” by participating in the Permineralization Fossil activity online. Make sure to ask for assistance from an adult friend or family member. Have fun!

  • Have you ever been petrified? Write a personal narrative or story about a time when you felt scared. Extra points if you share it with a friend or family member!

Sources of Wonder

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  • (accessed on March 27, 2019)
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  • (accessed on March 27, 2019)


1. Do trees have feelings or emotions?

Trees do not have feelings or emotions as humans do. They lack a nervous system and a brain, which are necessary for experiencing emotions. However, trees do respond to their environment and can communicate and interact with other trees and organisms in their surroundings.

2. Can trees feel pain?

No, trees cannot feel pain. Pain is a sensation that requires a nervous system to be perceived. Trees lack nerve endings and a central nervous system, so they are incapable of experiencing pain.

3. Can trees sense danger?

While trees cannot sense danger in the same way humans or animals can, they have developed various mechanisms to protect themselves from threats. For example, some trees release chemicals to repel insects or emit signals to warn nearby trees of potential danger.

4. Do trees respond to human presence?

Although trees do not respond to human presence in the same way animals might, they can be influenced by human activities. For instance, trees can be affected by changes in temperature, air pollution, or physical damage caused by humans. Additionally, some studies suggest that trees may grow differently in urban environments due to the presence of humans.

5. Can trees communicate with each other?

Yes, trees can communicate with each other through a network of underground fungi known as mycorrhizal networks. These networks allow trees to exchange nutrients, water, and information with neighboring trees. This communication system helps trees to warn each other of potential threats and share resources, contributing to their survival and overall health.

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