The BioPhiles 002: Can trees talk?
Have you ever muttered the statement to yourself, what if trees could talk?
Well what if I was to tell you...
And they do!
And the craziest part, it all starts with cake!
Welcome to the first installment of our “Learning from the Forests” series on the BioPhiles.
The BioPhiles is an open source exploration of biomimicry science.
Dude... What the heck is that?
Biomimicry is the process of imitating natural biological designs and systems in engineering or invention. Basically, it’s the idea that nature has already solved all our problems and it’s up to us to figure out what those solutions are. Then replicate them in a non-invasive way with our surroundings.
As human technology has evolved, we’ve discovered that old myths and legends are actually true and can be explained with modern scientific tools.
And it’s only just beginning.
Now… back to the cake and the trees.
Okay, so trees in a healthy forest are connected by a network of fungi that core little houses into the tree’s root system or even the bark (see image below). That fungi is part of a vast network across the entire forest floor just below the ground. Basically it’s like the internet but little white wispy webs called Mycelium. Excess sugar compounds the tree produces are excreted through the roots to this little fungi network. One soil scientist told us that in its essence, the tree is basically giving the fungi the chemical compound of cake.
With that happy cake sugar high, the fungi collects nutrients and minerals from the soil, caravans it through the same network and back up into the roots for the tree. This effectively establishes a trade network of cake for nutrients. A system such as this in nature is referred to as a symbiotic relationship, where each organism benefits from the other. A win-win if you will. This specific relationship is known as mycorrhiza and is derived from the words Mycos (fungi in greek) and Rhiza (roots in greek). You’ve most likely seen bags of this sold in every garden supply shop across the states and it should be included in your own garden.
But wait, there’s more!
The work of Suzanne Simard has shown that Mother trees (large hub trees in a stand) share nutrients with their saplings. More importantly, her work also proved that trees share resources across species. They do not just restrict their trade route with their own family or species. This information and nutrient trade is all done through that same Mycelium network. These same Mother trees, with memory from a longer life span, can send defense signals through the forest when threats are detected. Suzanne’s work has also led us to understand that even old growth stumps are still communicating with a forest stand, their memory and experience is still vital for young saplings growing.
Currently, more and more people are starting to work on the next level of plant communication by researching and experimenting with their bioacoustics. This involves hooking up electrodes to plants which picks up frequency currents given off by the leaves. If you run these currents through an amplifier and convert it to binary data you can hear the plants singing.
So, what does this all mean for growing food?
More on that later!
Just remember, next time you step into a forest, every tree knows you're there. And there's a good chance a few birds will fly by to check out your vibe.
Here are some links if you'd like to go down the rabbit hole further: