Trees Keep Talking. Are we listening?

Every life form on Earth speaks a language. Elephant-speak, Whale-speak, Cricket-speak, Beaver-speak …, you name it. All life forms are talking and we humans are getting a little better now at listening.

Peter Wohlleben, German forester/writer gives us a fascinating link to Tree-speak in his book, The Hidden Life of Trees. Wohlleben describes ways trees communicate with each other, how trees protect themselves from invading insects, lure insect predators to free them, and ensure a continuing replenishment of their families, their contribution to life on the planet. All in addition to supplying us with clean oxygen and recycling our carbon dioxide.

What an example of cooperation trees give us! Just as we log on and share our Internet, trees keep each other posted underground through their mycelium net, a fine fungal network that infinitely connects, signals, and nourishes all plant life. They do this via the web of soil fungi that connects and shares information and goods in what UBC Forest Ecology Professor, Susanne Simard calls the Wood Wide Web. You may remember her from the pbs.org video a few years ago, “What do plants talk about?”

Above ground, in the 1/3 of the forest we can see, trees give off chemical warnings to other trees when invaders attack, whether animals or insects. Trees can smell chemical warnings from other trees. They can even taste the saliva of leaf eating insects and send out a chemical that attracts predators that feed on that particular leaf eating insect.

The mycelium web streams through the 2/3 of the forest below ground that we cannot see. Trees have symbiotic relationships with other trees. Douglas firs like to have birch trees in their community. Birch mycelium provide firs with carbon in summer when Douglas fir is in shade. In the fall, when birch trees lose their leaves, the fir sends its excess carbon to the birch trees. Exchanges go on with nitrogen and other nutrients as they are needed among neighboring trees and plants. Socially, trees will even nourish the stump of a felled tree by feeding it sugars and other nutrients, keeping it alive.

When we think about expanding our energy resources, we need to keep this vital Wood Wide Web in mind. Currently in NH, our Wood Wide Web is being threatened by the Northern Pass Project which plans to disturb this web with either massive tower cement foundations 35’ deep in our NH forest and/or a deep trench disturbing the web alongside secondary roadways, uprooting trees and home plantings, blocking up commuters, school buses, disturbing water supplies with no consideration for the web. In addition, NP plans to build 500 miles of access roads through our forest.

Planners for Route 93 anticipated such needs when the road was built, hence the wide median which could accommodate future energy and transportation needs without disturbing our forests and neighborhoods. However, as we learn more about the 2/3 underground that provides a goldmine of nourishment, we need to be ever more creative in providing clean forms of energy such as solar and as yet undiscovered forms of energy that leave forests intact.

Time to be wary of Big Hydro. Ontario Hydro now has the highest energy rates in North America. Toronto pays 17.81 cents/kWh.  Ottawa pays 16.5 cents/kWh. Big Hydro is not cheap energy, much less environmentally clean. Quebec citizens are currently protesting HQ’s plan to destroy more of Quebec’s forest land to bury a pipeline to NH.

 

 

 

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