September 18, 2019

Trees: The Ground Beneath Our Feet Tells a Different Story

Trees are secretly talking, trading and waging war on one another.

They do this by using a network of fungi that grow around and inside their roots.

The fungi provide the trees with nutrients, and in return, they receive sugars.

But scientists have found this connection runs far deeper than first thought.

By plugging into the fungal network,

trees can share resources with each other.

The system has been nicknamed the Wood Wide Web.

It’s thought that older trees, fondly known as mother trees, 

use this fungal network to supply shaded seedlings with sugars, giving them a better chance of survival.

Those trees that are sick or dying may dump their resources into the network, which might then be used by healthier neighbors.

Plants also use fungi to send messages to one another.

If they are attacked, they can release chemical signals through their roots, which can warn their neighbors to raise their defenses.

But like our internet, the Wood Wide Web has its dark side, too.

Some orchids hack the system to steal resources from nearby trees. Other species, like the black walnut, spread toxic chemicals through the network to sabotage their rivals.

Arboreal cybercrime aside, scientists are still debating why plants seem to behave in such an altruistic way.

The hidden network creates a thriving community between individuals.

When you are next in woodland, you might like to think of trees as part of a big superorganism, chatting and swapping information, and food, under your feet. 

Excerpted from a video on the BBC.