Do your trees talk to each other?

By Peter Allen
Posted 4/11/19

Do trees talk to each other? Yes!

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Do your trees talk to each other?


Do trees talk to each other? Yes!

To understand how they communicate, I strongly recommend viewing online a TED talk by Suzanne Simard "How Trees Talk to Each Other." Just type in her name on the TED Talks website and the video will come up. It is less than 20 minutes and through actual experiments in a forest she proves how they talk.

However, I will also share with you my understanding of the "yes" of trees communicating. The soil in a forest and the soil beneath your trees is teaming with an incredible amount of activity. There are two categories of this activity, bacterial and fungal.

The bacterial activity consist of microscopic organisms that are food for larger bacterial organisms that excrete nutrients to the soil such as nitrogen, phosphorous and carbon. Think of the earthworm, a large organism although not bacterial, which eats organic matter and excretes nutrients and aerates the soil as well. You can help this activity by adding compost to "feed the soil." Synthetic fertilizers actually kill the important activity in the soil, so instead learn how to make your own compost or buy organic products and use it to "feed the soil" around trees.

The other category of activity is fungal - think mushroom. Mycorrhizal fungi, visible above ground as mushrooms - is a network of strings of fungi that work with the small feeder roots of the tree to transport minerals and nutrients produced by the bacterial activity, carbon, phosphorus and, yes, water, if the tree needs it.

What does "if the tree needs it" mean? Here lies the clue that trees do communicate.

The tree sends out distress signals through what forester Peter Wohlleben calls the "wood wide web." This need is heard by other trees who might have the resources to share and, if so, this fungal web is the path taken to respond to the request. Almost all, if not all, communication among trees is for distress situations and the call for assistance. A classmate of mine made the comment that trees are altruistic and will sacrifice their own resources to help another. Thus the communication is two way.

There is another means of communication and that is by sending out pheromones, a scent for lack of a better word. Often this message is a more timely warning that something "is in the air" such as an insect attack. If you are a dog owner, and probably cat owner as well, and you feel sick or are sad about something, the dog senses something is wrong and will show signs of understanding and compassion.

Similarly, according to Suzanne Simard, there are "hub" trees or "mother trees" which are older and can recognize their kin and take care of the little trees and let them know that the "wood wide web" is not for Facebook or tweeting or YouTube. It is for asking other trees for help.

There was a plan by the town of Taos to cut down all trees on the plaza in June except two cottonwoods and then plant replacement trees in July. With the advice of the Taos Tree Board this plan has been changed and the tree removal and replacement planting will take place sequentially. But for the moment let's imagine how the remaining two trees would respond to the distress signals from their buddies if the plan were to be executed (pun intended). Sadness for their fallen comrades? Succumb to dying themselves out of depression without their community of trees? Or possibly revenge to the insensitive and mistaken human activity by spreading roots under the gazebo and flipping it over?

Other great resources are two books: "The Overstory" by Richard Power and "The Hidden Life of Trees" by Peter Wohlleben.

Editor's note: The town of Taos and the Taos Tree Board are working together to have a National Arbor Day event on the Plaza on Friday, April 26 from 2 to 5 p.m.. Look for more details in the coming weeks.


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