The Wood Wide Web
July 13, 2019 9:15 AM   Subscribe

The secret language of trees (animation.) "Learn how trees are able to communicate with each other through a vast root system and symbiotic fungi, called mycorrhizae: Most of the forest lives in the shadow of the giants that make up the highest canopy. These are the oldest trees, with hundreds of children and grandchildren. They check in with their neighbors, share food, supplies and wisdom gained over their lives, all while rooted in place. How do they do this? Camille Defrenne and Suzanne Simard explore the vast root system and intricate communication of trees."

Via Maria Popova's Brainpickings: The Fascinating Science of How Trees Communicate, Animated
But trees are much more than what they are to us, or for us, or in relation to us. They are relational miracles all their own, entangled in complex, symbiotic webs of interbeing, constantly communicating with one another through chemical signals dispatched along the fungal networks that live in their roots — an invisible, astonishing underworld only recently discovered, thanks to the work of Canadian forest ecologist Suzanne Simard.

In this lovely short animation from TED-Ed and animator Avi Ofer, Camille Defrenne — one of Simard’s doctoral students at the University of British Columbia, studying how the interaction and architecture of root systems relate to forest dynamics and climate change — synthesizes the fascinating, almost otherworldly findings of Simard’s lab:
Simard's 2016 TED Talk: How trees talk to each other
"A forest is much more than what you see," says ecologist Suzanne Simard. Her 30 years of research in Canadian forests have led to an astounding discovery — trees talk, often and over vast distances. Learn more about the harmonious yet complicated social lives of trees and prepare to see the natural world with new eyes.

Recent news on tree communication: Wood wide web: Trees' social networks are mapped. Research has shown that beneath every forest and wood there is a complex underground web of roots, fungi and bacteria helping to connect trees and plants to one another.

Via Robert Macfarlane (previously) on Twitter. In a reply, Chris Clarke points out that "[i]f they'd added in mycorrhizal networks not attached to trees it would have been about eight times as mindblowing. Here in the Mojave Desert such networks are a significant carbon sink" and links to this piece:

The Desert Under Our Feet – An Extraordinary Biological Web that Serves Us in Countless Ways

Macfarlane has written about this before, back in 2017: The Secrets of the Wood Wide Web: In London’s Epping Forest, a scientist named Merlin eavesdrops on trees’ underground conversations.

MacFarlane's article and Simard's TED Talk were both featured in this excellent previous post: Are plants sentient?

The Wood Wide Web has also been portrayed in fiction, like recently in The OA season 2 (spoilers): The [Wonderful] Tree Conversation in 'The OA' Is Actually Based on Real Science. "No tree survives alone in the forest. When one tree falls ill, we all send food. For if one tree dies, the canopy is broken. Then all suffer the weather and pestilence that flood in."
posted by homunculus (13 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

The Man Who Planted Trees (1987) "also known as The Story of Elzéard Bouffier, The Most Extraordinary Character I Ever Met, and The Man Who Planted Hope and Reaped Happiness, is an allegorical tale by French author Jean Giono, published in 1953. It was adapted to this animated short by Frédéric Back and released in 1987. It earned a number of awards including an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film"

Previously, Via.
posted by homunculus at 9:37 AM on July 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Related: The Overstory: A Novel
posted by chavenet at 10:12 AM on July 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

What is the best of Wood Wide Web?

Top 10 ways to beat termite infestation (number 6 will amaze you)?
posted by otherchaz at 10:54 AM on July 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I saw that drawing of the book The Man Who Planted Trees at the end. That is a favorite video of ours. Very, very much worth the 75 minutes if you haven't seen it. And thank you, homunculus, for this wonderful post!
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 10:56 AM on July 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

On preview, I see that this video was already linked.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 10:57 AM on July 13, 2019

> Related: The Overstory: A Novel

Richard Powers's book was the subject of another great previous post: "Remember the trees… Remember all who tried to save them."
posted by homunculus at 11:05 AM on July 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

thanks for this.

although it reminds me of the superb, esoteric and much missed blog, wood s lot—and now I am sad. Mark would've loved this.

[remarkable—just noticed the last post was three years to the day—July 13, 2016]
posted by Ahmad Khani at 2:48 PM on July 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

although it reminds me of the superb, esoteric and much missed blog, wood s lot—and now I am sad. Mark would've loved this.

Me too. wood s lot was consistently brilliant and beautiful. RIP Mark.

[remarkable—just noticed the last post was three years to the day—July 13, 2016]

posted by homunculus at 6:28 PM on July 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Very cool, thanks! I've been reading Sue Burke's Semiosis, which sounds like it might be a SF introduction to The Overstory linked above. It's pretty fun so far.
posted by sneebler at 7:30 PM on July 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

New article at The Side View (previously) by Laura Pustarfi (@laurapustarfi):

Into a Quiet Within: Reflections on Arboreal Phenomenology. Reconsidering arboreal phenomenology has implications for our human relationships to trees and forests, both personal and societal.
The Western canon contains innumerable references to trees. Many of these are metaphorical, such as Deleuze and Guattari’s account of the arboreal and the rhizomatic, Hegel’s truth as a tree in blossom, and Descartes’s philosophy as a tree. If not metaphorical, these references exemplify a concept, but rarely do trees themselves become the focus of philosophical interest and inquiry. The references expand somewhat when enlarged to include the whole plant kingdom, and yet trees and plants have remained on the periphery of philosophical thought.

For instance, Plato notes a plant is “alive, to be sure, and unmistakably a living thing, but it stays put, standing fixed and rooted, since it lacks self-motion,” and Aristotle claims plants are “entirely without [loco]motion” (akínita).[1] While trees and plants are not able to change location, they do move, and with decisiveness, yet they do so much more slowly and often in places that are inconvenient for human perception, such as underground.

Charles Darwin and his son, Francis Darwin, showed in 1880 that plants do in fact move, and more recently in 2003 plant physiologist Anthony Trewavas cited the difference in time scales between plants and humans as part of his argument for plant intelligence.[2] Trees work in decades, centuries, and sometimes millennia, rather than the human timeframes of days, weeks, months, and years. Researchers also know that trees are relational and communicate, sharing nutrients and information, and that plants learn and remember.[3] Humanities and interdisciplinary scholars, such as philosopher Michael Marder and evolutionary ecologist Monica Gagliano, also critically address trees and plants in their work.[4]

These findings alone are cause for reconsidering vegetal ontology, and with it arboreality. Trees deserve more philosophical attention both because this new scientific research shows that plants have previously unknown capacities and because deforestation continues to impact environmental and social systems planet-wide. With its focus on embodied perception, phenomenology is a practice tool from within the Western lineage that can reopen questions around trees themselves.

Trees appear in the works of phenomenologists Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Reconsidering arboreal phenomenology has implications for our human relationships to trees and forests, both personal and societal.
posted by homunculus at 10:18 AM on July 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ajit Johnson: "Tree stumps that should be dead can be kept alive by nearby trees, discovers new study, they do so through an interconnected root system, which may change our view from trees as individuals to forests as ‘superorganisms’."
posted by homunculus at 6:32 AM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by Sand at 12:58 PM on July 26, 2019

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