Forests are much more humanistic than we ever thought. There is an underground world right below our feet. Trees actually speak to one another in a way that humans can understand.
Ecologists like Suzanne Simard have studied forestry for more than two decades. Simard hoped her unbelievable discovery would change how we would practice forestry, from clear-cutting and herbicides to more holistic and sustainable methods. She conducted hundreds of experiments in the forest but this discovery is one for the record books.
Forests are much more than trees competing for survival; it is quite opposite actually. Forests act as a single organism made up on infinite biological pathways that connect trees and allow them to communicate.
Trees are surprisingly social creatures that are dependent upon one another.
After scientists discovered in a laboratory that one Pine seedling root could transmit carbon to another Pine seedling root, Simard was eager to conduct her own experiment in the forest.
Simard discovered that there is a mass communication underground; like a massive web of hair-like mushroom roots that transmit secret messages between trees, triggering them to share nutrients and water with those in need – information!
In the past, scientists assumed trees were competing with each other for carbon, sunlight, water and nutrients. Simard discovered trees were cooperators.
They communicate by sending chemical and hormonal signals to each other via mycorrhiza – literally means “fungus root.” Mushrooms are a fungus that we see throughout the forest. Below the mushrooms and underneath the ground are fungal threads that form a mycelium – literally means “more than one.” This mycelium infects and colonizes the roots of all trees and plants.
Simard – “The web is so dense there can be hundreds of kilometers of mycelium under a single foot step.”
The mycelium web connects hub trees with baby trees, allowing them to feed their young.
A single mother tree can provide nourishment for hundreds of smaller trees in the under-story of her branches, she says.
Mother trees even recognize their kin, sending them more mycelium and carbon and reducing their own root size to make room for their babies.
Forests are complex systems that provide avenues for feedback and adaptation. They have enormous capacity to self heal; that’s if we reduce deforestation.
Mother nature needs to pass her wisdom onto the next generation of trees so they can withstand the future stresses of our destructive universe.
Cut less. Save legacies. Reestablish local forests.
Watch: Suzanne Simard TED Talk