Video: How Trees Communicate

Researchers at the University of British Columbia are concluding that trees are interacting with one another in a symbiotic relationship that helps the trees to survive.  Connected by fungi, the underground root systems of plants and trees are transferring carbon and nitrogen back and forth between each other in a network of subtle communication.  Similar to the network of neurons and axons in the human brain, the network of fungi, roots, soil and micro-organisms beneath the larger ‘mother trees’ gives the forest its own consciousness.

“Some of the forest practices that we have done pay no attention to the role of these ‘mother trees’ or that trees actually will move some of their legacy to the new generation. We didn’t pay attention to it.  Instead what we did is we went and cut down those trees after they died so that we could make 2 x 4’s out of them. And we didn’t give them a chance to give back to the community, I don’t think. So what those dying trees will do is that they will also move resources into living trees, to the young ones coming up, before they go, before they completely collapse. So it’s a transfer, like a passing of the wand from one generation to the next, if we allow it to happen.”

– Forester Suzanne Simard, a professor at the University of British Columbia

9 thoughts on “Video: How Trees Communicate”

  1. Hmm. not to get all metaphysical here.. but “consciousness”??? Y’all know I am perfectly at home in the metaphysical world as well as the scientific.. but I think we need to be careful of clearly articulating the link between “facts found and conclusions drawn” as we say in the relatively humble world of administrative appeals.

  2. Yes, consciousness, “the state of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings.”

    This post corroborating millennia of observations arising independently from a panoply of cultures (often labeled “savages” before, during and after they were destroyed) on many different continents. And a consciousness, if not shared as a mutual condition with all living things, leading us inevitably to our own destruction as evidenced over the past couple of centuries but now with our whole planet at stake.

    Denial, the refusal to believe or attribute a condition of validity or truth, does not negate its existence as valid or true.

    There is a certain pathology to intentionally closing the door of understanding and awareness. Or even demanding “proof” when so much is at stake. What we think (respect for, relate to, interact with) and how we feel about other living things can render us incapable of understanding them and ourselves.

    “And all (living) things conspire to keep silent about us, half
    out of shame perhaps, half as unutterable hope. ”
    (from the Second Elegy, R.M. Rilke)

  3. One certainly has to wonder how this new emerging research will impact the Forest Service’s post-fire salvage logging activities.

  4. Why Gore invented split-screen:

    I liked the part where trees pass on their “legacy” from one generation to the next — “if we allow it to happen!” I think “allowing” these trees to do any such thing is not doing enough — the trees should be forced to transfer their legacies, dammit! It’s for their own good. Also good for lynx and bull trout, but maybe not gray wolves or owls (excepting those known to prefer an amphibian diet).

    If this “new emerging research” (I think the Secret Life of Plants came out some time ago, didn’t it?) has ANY “impact [on the] Forest Service’s post-logging activities,” then it is time to take away the car keys and change the locks down at the office.

    Step 1. Redefine a common term (e.g., “communicate”) to serve your own purposes; Step 2. Make up a bunch of stuff that “supports” your new definition; Step 3. Convince your pals to anonymously review your “work,”; Step 4. Collect and cash your government check for publishing your peer-reviewed “new emerging research.”

  5. I see how it is Bob…When you don’t have a response to someone’s science and research, you just make fun. That’s, like, so scientific of you.

    Anyway, looks like there’s about an arms length of “current publications” listed on Dr. Simard’s University of BC website and this is what her current research is about. Interesting, groundbreaking stuff to say the least:

    The role of mycorrhizae and mycorrhizal networks in tree species migrations with climate change and disturbance – NSERC DG

    The mycorrhizal ecology laboratory – linking belowground with aboveground indicators of forest sustainability – CFI/BCKDF

  6. Matt: “Making fun” is my response. I was engaged in systematic studies of mycorrhizae about 35 years ago, in relation to conifer seedling survival and growth. They thought it might be more useful than the tests seemed to indicate. The stuff is everywhere (they had problems even sterilizing the test plots), and “prescribed inoculations” via slurry and other methods were soon discontinued due to cost and demonstrated lack of plant response. If anything, the extra handling seemed to cause a slight increase in transplant shock and mortality.

    When I’m informed that trees are “subtly communicating” between generations if “allowed,” I have a choice of being disgusted by another government boondoggle, or make light of the situation. I try and choose the latter course, as in this instance. Truly, I see little differences in the two videos — only the level of sophistication in which the human guilt and communication with plants take place.

  7. Darnit Bob. You owe me a new keyboard. Spewed coffee thru my nose watching that video of yours.

    Thanks. A little levity is always appreciated….I’m still laughing.

  8. I’m just not seeing the most important “sharing” a tree could do for another. There is absolutely no way a tree is going to give up its water while still alive. None of them would sacrifice their water for the benefit of another tree. It is the oldest trees which have the shallowest roots, never needing to develop them, in response to competition and drought.

    Also, the intense wildfires that bake to soil’s deeper layers, also completely consume most organic material, including fungi. Yet another reason why wildfires are so intensely damaging when burning in unnaturally heavy fuels.

  9. Just thought i would add a brief comment in regards to an article i read this morning. Its called “in defense of superstition?” posted on Rational thinking blog post.

    This is what i pulled from the article and is as follows:

    “Hutson concludes that “to believe in magic — as, on some deep level, we all do — does not make you stupid, ignorant or crazy. It makes you human.” Well, that it certainly does, but one of the things that also makes us human is our constant striving for bettering ourselves, sharpening our tools to understand (and, to an extent, control) the world in which we live. Which brings me to the last objection I have to the glorification of superstition: it is ethically questionable, to say the least.

    Generally speaking, we do not think that lying is a good thing. I’m not making a Kantian argument here: if the Nazis are knocking at your door searching for the Jew you are hiding in your basement, by all means go ahead and lie to the bastards. I am, instead, taking a Sandel-like virtue ethics approach according to which lying — except under extreme circumstances — is an indication of a bad character. If it’s bad to lie to other people, it is at least as bad to lie to yourself (not an oxymoron, contra what some may think), which is what you do when you indulge in superstitious thinking.”

    Its not that this research is flawed, viewed with skepticism, or ultimately pushed through the scientific arm, but it is how we respond as a society to better relate to our circumstances at hand. In this case, i do believe that these interactions are caused by mycorrhizae and mycorrhizal networks, but to what extent, magnitude, and longevity does this add to the understanding of our forests. And what do we do in response to this research? We will see? Hopefully we take a rational outlook and understand that, yes, we humans are part of an interconnected ecosystem (i.e. Avitar), and can both use the environment for society’s consumptive patterns while building a more adaptive ecosystem for all natures aesthetics and ecosystem services.


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