The Underground World of Trees

Recent scientific findings about trees are turning forestry on its head, according to Suzanne Simard, who studied forests for over 30 years.

“Instead of (replanting) rows of trees, its families of trees,” said Simard, professor of Forest Ecology at the University of B.C., who was featured in the documentary “The Intelligence of Trees.”

There was standing room only at the San Juan Public Library on Saturday evening, Jan. 27, when the “Intelligence of Trees” was shown. The event was sponsored by the San Juan Chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society and Griffin Bay Books. The Washington Native Plant Society was formed in 1976, with a mission to promote, educate and appreciate native plants. Jane Wentworth, the chairwoman of the society, introduced the film.

“Intelligence of Trees” follows Simard, German forester Peter Wohlleben, who wrote the book “Hidden Life of Trees,” and Teresa Ryan Smhayetsk, postdoctoral fellow of the Forest and Conservation Sciences at the University of B.C.

Contrary to previous notions of forestry, Wohlleben says in the documentary, trees do not need space or to be separated, but like to grow together as if to “cuddle.” Instead of obstructing light and space, he says, they carefully try not to block each other and keep their limbs away from each other. Their roots, on the other hand, become entwined, and through their roots, support each other. Trees are able to pass nutrients, water, carbon dioxide, as well as messages of warning, even fear.

Early on, Simard had a hunch there was a lot more to the forest floor and root systems than was previously known, and suspected trees might transfer nutrients, water, and carbon dioxide to each other underground.

She and her students tested these theories in experiments using plastic mesh bags, radioactive isotopes and liquid nitrogen.

(Continue reading…)


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