“When trees grow together, nutrients and water can be optimally divided among them all so that each tree can grow into the best tree it can be. If you ‘help’ individual trees by getting rid of their supposed competition, the remaining trees are bereft. They send messages out to their neighbors in vain, because nothing remains but stumps. Every tree now muddles along on its own, giving rise to great differences in productivity. … a tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it.”
~ Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees
I have always imagined trees to be singular entities – stand-alone parts of the natural world. But now I know differently. This quote from Peter Wohlleben’s magical book has awakened me to kinship.
When you walk through the forest this summer don’t just look up. I invite you to look down as well, open to the wonder of the subterranean social network of trees.
Apparently, trees send each other carbon through mycelium, or fungal threads, and this sending process isn’t simply random. According to Suzanne Simard, a UBC forest ecologist, there is an active social network thriving in our forests through fungi that inhabit the root zones of trees. Fungal threads make up an incredible superhighway of links between various plants, sharing information and nutrients in mutually beneficial relationships.*
“While plants and trees provide the fungi with carbs, they return the favour by aiding water retention, cycling nutrients out of the soil, and priming the immune system against potential future threats.”** Scientists are calling this the “wood-wide web” and “earth’s natural internet”.
Here’s another enlightening quote from Richard Power’s The Overstory:
Subterranean voles feed on truffles and spread the spores of angel fungi across the forest floor. Fungi infuse into the roots of trees in partnerships so tight it’s hard to say where one organism leaves off and the other begins.
I find this an awe-inspiring interconnectedness. There is magic going on under our feet with every step we take into the forest.
* A link to her marvelous TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/suzanne_simard_how_trees_talk_to_each_other?language=en)
** Illustration and information found at http://www.wildecology.org/2018/10/10/treetalk/