Interstellar explorers have discovered what looks like a very suitable planet for human colonization. The climate is good, there are no pathogens, and a beautiful forest grows abundantly. A charming aspect of the flora is that leaves can detach themselves and fly off like flocks of multicolored butterflies. When they land on humans, the fliers take a tiny genetic sample as a sort of hello. Some of the biologists at the research station are disturbed that this idyllic scene will soon be plowed under.

To make the planet ready for settlers, an island has been cleared of native vegetation and inroads are being made on the mainland as well. But the forest that covers the mainland resists mightily, creating solid rings of wood around cleared areas that are planted with terrestrial vegetation. And it's hard to keep an area cleared when the trees can distributed themselves as flying leaves. The woody rings can be blasted open to allow terrestrial plants a foothold, but more rings form, and from the air the scars are very evident.

The forest is really all one organism. Eventually a pair of characters finds it possible to communicate chemically with this world-straddling forest. In the process, they become symbiotic with it.

I probably read (and reread) this story in an English-language anthology during the 70s, a time when ecologic concepts were becoming widespread in science fiction.

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    Bits of this - especially the taking of the genetic sample - sound like Greg Bear's Legacy, but that's a book, the third in the Way series, and wasn't published until 1996. – Daniel Roseman May 6 at 14:48
  • Maybe Bear was influenced by this story. I've leafed through Legacy and have been meaning to read it. I enjoyed the first two books in the Way series. – Invisible Trihedron May 6 at 15:05
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    Not a match, but description is close for Semiosis (2018) by Sue Burke - interstellar colonizers, vast semi- to intelligent fauna, genetic-sampling fliers, and eventual symbiosis (semiosis) through communication. – gowenfawr May 6 at 16:11
  • Interesting. Thank you for the suggestion. I enjoy eco-fiction. – Invisible Trihedron May 6 at 18:01
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    Another recent example of this is an event in the 2016 game Stellaris where the player discovers a new colony is occupied by mobile forests and can choose to study or burn it. The annoying nature of the forest getting in the way is actually a feature in the game and the outcome you mentioned is a possible conclusion to the event. – 5AM May 6 at 19:08

Hunter, Come Home by Richard McKenna. From the anthology Casey Agonistes.

The leaves that fly are the Phytos. Annoyingly I have mislaid my copy of the book so I can't give my usual quotes. However the story is about the attempt to kill the indigenous life using some form of bioweapon called Thanasis. The rings are structures formed by Thanasis as it battles the indigenous life.

This is a fantastic anthology and is the only SF that Richard McKenna wrote. Copies are hard to find these days, but if you can find one I thoroughly recommend it. Richard McKenna is better known for his historical novel The Sand Pebbles, but his sole SF book is excellent if sadly underappreciated.

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    There's an excellent review that details a lot of the points in the question. – DavidW May 6 at 15:49
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    John Rennie, you are right! Yes, I remember the details you added. Using the ISFDB link you provided, I did not read it in Casey Agonistes (a book I will now be looking out for), but in The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction, 13th Series, edited by Avram Davidson (1967 edition, originally published in 1964). I recognize the cover. I am glad for the opportunity to read this again -- when I find another copy. – Invisible Trihedron May 6 at 17:51
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    @InvisibleTrihedron It's in the Knight anthology A Century of Great Short Science Fiction Novels, available on abebooks for less than five bucks. Don't order the Knight A Century of Great Science Fiction or 100 Years of Science Fiction by mistake! – Organic Marble May 6 at 21:03
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    FYI -- Original publication is available at archive.org: archive.org/details/Fantasy_Science_Fiction_v024n03_1963-03_PDF/… – Otis May 7 at 15:35

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