Geeking Science: Tree Talk

Photo by Sebastian Unrau on Unsplash

Scientists have discover trees gossip, after a fashion.

Through a fungal network, they share information about insect attacks, can request nutrients, and even nurture their young. So much happening right under our feet!

Within a multi-layer, diverse-culture forest, mother trees can make sure her seedlings get the food they need even under the shade of her branches. But here is a twist on that sharing nutrient network, trees do it with other trees outside their family line and even species. Initially, this might seem counter intutive to the Darwinian “survival of the fittest” concept of every creature and lifeform is out for themselves. When ecology professor Suzanne Simard ran a test, she discovered Birch and Fir trees talk to each other.

When the fir was shaded by the birch in summer, the birch sent more carbon to it. When the birch was leafless in the winter, the fir sent more carbon to it. (Burrows, 2018)

By working together, the two trees had a steady supply of “food” year round.

Cooperation for the win.

This interaction within the forest gives some concerns to clear-cutting and replacing with mono-culture tree species. Even removing the “largest” trees might not be the best option for a healthy forest, as the mother trees are teaching other trees how to share resources. This massive interaction is something loggers need to study to maximize production of good wood products.

<Simard> says, “<Trees> live longest and reproduce most often in a healthy stable forest. That’s why they’ve evolved to help their neighbors.” (Grant, 2018)

As a writer interested in science fiction, all this geeks me out. The interconnectedness of forests brings so much to the conceptual plate of Terraforming. Making oxygen and water won’t bring a planet paradise into existence. We must understand soil, trees sharing water and nutrients, fungi taking 30% of the sugar to provide a communication network and replaying the sugar with nutrients they gather to the tree roots. All these interactions will need to be brought into play on New-Earth, both fictional and in real life.


BBC News. “How trees secretly talk to each other” YouTube. June 29, 2018. – last viewed 12/18/2022.

Burrows, Sue. “Trees Talk to Each Other in a Language We Can Learn, Ecologist Claims”. February 28, 2018. – last viewed 12/18/2022 (Note 4/26/2024: website cancelled).

Grant, Richard. “Do Trees Talk to Each Other?”. Smithsonian Magazine. March 2018. – Last viewed 12/18/2022.

McClenaghan, Beverly. “STEM in Context – Talking Trees: How Do Trees Communicate?” Let’s Talk Science. July 23, 2019. – last viewed 12/18/2022 (Note from 9/20/2023 – looks like it is now behind a paywall).