Trees have a lot to say, but not to us

Trees have a lot to say, but not to us

Trees have a lot to say, but not to us
April 03
17:30 2018

If a tree could talk, can you imagine what it would have to say? Unfortunately, trees don’t have much to say to humans.

However, scientists have discovered there is significant dialogue between trees within a forest.

Suzanne Simard spent her youth within the forests of British Columbia. She learned much from her grandfather about the intricacies of the forest. As Simmard grew, her interest in the natural world did not wane. She pursued a formal education in the subject of forestry where she, with her research, became formidable in the scientific community. Simmard’s research has allowed us to unlock some of the mysteries held within the forest.

It was discovered that the root of a young pine could actually send carbon to another pine root. The idea trees could actually communicate by means of their root network pushed Simmard to ask more questions. This study had originally been performed in a lab, and Simmard wanted to know if a replicated study performed within the environment would have the same results.

Simmard grew 80 replicates of three species of tree: paper birch, Douglas fir and western red cedar. She hypothesized that within close proximity to each other, these trees would share carbon amongst themselves to promote growth. Simmard also noted it was likely the cedar would not participate in the interactions, which implies the interaction is dependent upon tree species.

Placing a bag over each tree, Simmard then used a syringe to inject her tracer isotope carbon dioxide gases. A tracer gas is used in science to create a path of which the scientist can follow and discover the natural flow and direction of the gas. She used two separate isotopes to discern whether or not there was a two-way communication between these separate tree species.

After enough time had passed for photosynthesis to occur, Simmard used her Geiger counter to detect the presence of radioactivity. She discovered the trees, in fact, were communicating. Some of the replicates were covered by a shade cloth, resulting in inadequate photosynthesis. These shaded replicates were asking their neighboring saplings for any extra carbon they could offer.

This type of underground communication showed how trees work together for their continued survival. Simmard noted that, in this way, the forest is like one big organism.

Further study illuminated new concepts which included the aided communication by fungi organisms, as well as the other gases which are shared between trees like languages. We even learned that tree species could recognize their own progeny and give them precedence over other species when sharing resources.

We thought for so long that trees were silent giants, but now it seems they have a voice. I, along with Simard, hope this discovery will change how humans understand and interact with organisms of the plant kingdom. We are responsible for mass-deforestation and a slew of other problems which have directly affected our environment and our planet.

When we “replant” the forests after logging, we are recreating a forest lacking diversity. The reason there is little diversity is due to the fact that we are planting one or two species, which then makes the entire forest more likely to be unable to resist impacts like those caused by diseases.

When we cut down and or burn trees on a large scale, we release massive quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which, as a greenhouse gas, furthers the issue of global warming. The tree’s ability to absorb carbon is thwarted by selfish gain and pushes every organism on this shared planet toward a brewing mutual catastrophe.

Perhaps an intimate understanding of the nature of trees would deter continued deforestation. However, I think we tend to resist feeling empathy for plants. Trees that have stood tall and proud for centuries are hacked down for something as meaningless as a parking lot.

Our environment is horribly degraded, and it only continues to suffer. Setting aside for a moment the goals of personal wealth or increased farmland, the over-logging of tree species is an issue that must be attended to.

I believe a major cause is a lack of understanding and a need for education. Now that we understand trees communicate, it is time we acknowledge them and respect them for what they are: fellow beings on this big blue marble.

Featured Image: Illustration by Austin Banzon

About Author

Sean Rainey

Sean Rainey

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2 Comments

  1. RuthAnn Jackson
    RuthAnn Jackson April 04, 12:36

    I like the fact their are scientific studies being done to further research the ability of tree’s to communicate and share resources, etc. It is quite interesting and makes sense. What I hope with continued research science can answer is a question that keeps coming back to me- Do trees have an awareness of their surroundings? Or, stated differently- Are the reasons trees communicate and share resources brought on by any other reason than that of the tree’s individual cells are performing the basic functions needed for it’s own survival? I prefer to romanticize the answer and humanize trees as individual spirits. 🙂

    Reply to this comment
  2. RuthAnn Jackson
    RuthAnn Jackson April 04, 12:39

    I like the fact there are scientific studies being done to further research the ability of a tree to communicate and share resources, etc. with other trees. It is quite interesting and makes sense. What I hope with continued research science can answer is a question that keeps coming back to me- Do trees have an awareness of their surroundings? Or, stated differently- Are the reasons trees communicate and share resources brought on by any other reason than that of the tree’s individual cells are performing the basic functions needed for its own survival? I prefer to romanticize the answer and humanize trees as individual spirits. 🙂

    Reply to this comment

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