Saturday, December 2, 2023


Nature’s GPS: The secret to tree ‘eyes’ and how they can help you navigate

“If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?” The answer may befuddle some, but what I want to know is, “Will other trees watch it happen?”

Do trees have eyes? The answer may surprise you and perhaps make you wonder, “Are the trees watching me?”

Trees DO have eyes!

If you enjoy hiking in the many wonderful forests scattered across our great country, you may have already discovered this truth for yourself: Trees have eyes! No, I’m not talking about eyes like ours that can actually see, but the “eyes” on trees just might help you see to find your way if you somehow wander off the trail.


Let me explain. Branch shedding (called abscission) is a natural process in which trees shed twigs and branches whose leaves are continually shaded. These shaded leaves are unable to capture the light necessary for photosynthesis and so their branches are of no use to the tree.

Gradually, the tree’s resin will form a kind of seal over the point where the trunk and branch meet. Once this seal is complete, the branch no longer has access to nutrients and water. It will die and eventually drop from the tree’s trunk. What’s left behind is a spot in the bark that resembles an eye. Some trees even have a line over the eye that looks like an eyebrow! These “tree eyes” are easiest to find on trees with smooth trunks, but all trees have them.

So what?

Here’s the thing: The “eyes” can help you see—or navigate through the forest. Trees generally grow more branches on their southern-facing side, especially in dense forests. So, when a tree sheds branches, it will have the most “eyes” on its southern side. You can use these “southern eyes” to find your way back to your RV! Once you find the trees’ “southern eyes,” you can quickly determine north, east, and west.

See, I told you trees have eyes!

Practice looking for “southern eyes” on trees the next time you hike. Soon, you’ll be able to spot them more easily.

Have you ever used trees or other natural features to help you navigate in the forest? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh is an avid RVer and occasional work camper. Retired from 30+ years in the field of education as an author and educator, she now enjoys sharing tips and tricks that make RVing easier and more enjoyable.



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Bisonwings (@guest_254584)
2 months ago

Prevailing winds are different in different parts of the country. From Missouri West to the Eastern slopes of the Rockies they tend to be from the South west. So if you’re in Eastern Colorado. New Mexico, Oklahoma, or Texas you’re generally getting winds from the Southwest.

Neal Davis (@guest_254474)
2 months ago

Thank you, Gail. I’ll see if our trees are well-behaved and have eyes on their southern-facing side. Thank you for the tip!

Jim Johnson (@guest_254382)
2 months ago

Add the directional knowledge to ‘moss on the north side’, sun and moon move east to west, and knowing how to find the north star. While not perfect, non-stormy weather tends to move in a prevailing direction. Usually from a westerly direction in the northern hemisphere. Watch for cloud movement. If calm and you are next to a lake, look for sand ridges just offshore. They are formed perpendicular to wind-driven wave action. They tend to run north-south if you are on the east or west side of the lake. If you are on the north or south shores, the ridges will have a more swirled appearance as the sand moves with the waves, but encounters drag from the shoreline.

And me? I’m a dumb city dweller and pretty much always have some form of compass with me. You may have to install an app, but nearly every smartphone has a built-in electronic compass function.

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