The Forest-Wide Web

In May I was in California, one of my favorite places on Earth because of its magnificent redwood forests. While strolling in one of these forests close to Santa Cruz, I came upon a tree that had toppled over, exposing its roots. How fantastic are roots! They form a tangled mesh underneath the ground that can contain as much biomass as the above-ground portion of the plant (in the case of grasses, there is much more biomass underground than above ground!).

But even more interesting is that these tangled masses of roots remind me of the tangled masses of cables and wires one sees in large computer arrays or fancy machinery, that need to interconnect thousands of different electronic parts.

It just so happens that roots are not just ducts for trees to absorb nutrients and water – they are also used for communication! Trees literally talk with each other by sending chemical signals through their roots, which are interconnected under the forest floor, forming a forest-wide web. The forest-wide web can be used to feed sick members of the community, nurture young ones, and even defend communities against enemies. There is a marvelous world hidden beneath the ground, one that we cannot even begin to imagine by just looking at a tree.

Want to learn more? I suggest you read The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben – a fantastic voyage through the intricacies and intrigues of forests.