Wood Wisdom Wednesday – Talking Trees

Researchers have been studying the science of forests and their root systems for centuries, and just over 20 years ago, ecologist Suzanne Simard discovered that trees actually do communicate with one another on a microbial scale. Scientists have nicknamed this intricate system the Wood Wide Web as it is comparable to the many social networks that we are familiar with today. Many factors come in to play when figuring out just how the many trees in our forests communicate with each other. Things like location and climate are two major contributors to what messages or resources get sent or taken from one tree to another.

How Trees Communicate

The Wood Wide Web is a global system of fungi intermingling with tree roots that allow our forests to share resources, send warning messages, or even steal nutrients from one another. The fungi and tree roots have developed a symbiotic relationship that allows the fungi to survive off of carbon and sugars released by the tree’s roots while the fungi release nutrients like nitrogen or phosphorus back to their host trees. But the communication in the Wood Wide Web goes even further than just fungi and roots.

Why Trees Communicate

Young saplings in deeply shaded parts of the forest directly rely on sugars and nutrients that are sent to them from neighboring mature trees that have premium sun exposure. “Mother” trees can even detect their own offspring and are more likely to send them nutrients to sustain healthy growth. Trees that have been attacked by bugs can also send out warning messages to nearby trees, which allows them to prepare for an incoming attack. Not all trees act in kindness to their neighbors, though. The black walnut is notorious for poisoning nearby plants by producing a toxic substance called juglone so it can limit its competition.