Note — May 30, 2021

The Intelligent Forest

Second piece at NOEMA, this one by the fabulous tree whisperer, Suzanne Simard who shares an excerpt from her just-out book Finding the Mother Tree. I’ve linked to interviews with her before, and you’ve likely heard about her work, but I don’t tire of reading about her fascinating fascination with the intelligence of trees, their collaboration, mycorrhizal fungi, symbiosis, and what they can teach us. Also, wolves, caribou, and a hike that shows her relationship with the forest.

Mycorrhizal fungi are generalists — they colonize plant root tissue, sometimes even intracellularly. They might invest in many tree species to hedge their bets for survival, and the off chance that some carbon would move to a stranger was simply part of the cost of moving it to relatives. […]

Maybe the fast-cycling fungi could provide a way for the trees to adjust swiftly to cope with change and uncertainty. Instead of waiting for the next generation of trees to reproduce with more adaptive ways of coping with the soils warming and drying as the climate changes, the mycorrhizal fungi with which the trees are in symbiosis could evolve much faster to acquire increasingly tightly bound resources. […]

Recognizing that forest ecosystems, like societies, have these elements of intelligence helps us leave behind old notions that they are inert, simple, linear and predictable