Hidden underground networks

Updated: Mar 12

A tree that has been cut down, if it can't grow back, dies. Yet, after being cut down nearly a century ago, these living stumps are alive and well.

These Douglas Fir stumps prove how connected the forest really is.

Underground, the trees play footsie. The Douglas Firs of the Pacific Northwest seek out and willingly graft their roots together. They create a large superstructure composed of many trees throughout the entire forest if allowed. At Riverpass these living stumps show it off.

In doing so the trees can share water and even nutrients, by passing and trading them through the vast network of roots and fungi to trees in spots void of certain trace minerals. The secret is in a fibrous fungal network called the mycorrhizal layer, often found in rich soil.

This is a popular addition amongst homeowners for the backyard garden, for this reason alone.

What is not well known, however, is how the plants and trees can actually communicate with each other, almost in real-time. It has been proven through scientific means, if one tree is attacked by man or pest, it will send distress signals to its neighbors. Then they send out a signal to their own neighbors, creating a ripple effect around the original victim. Eventually every tree in the area knows what has happened.

Trees were thought from a false evolutionary standpoint, to be competing amongst their own kind, as well as waging war for sunlight and resources with other species.

It turns out, that several species of trees will form alliances with other species, as well as offering each other services and protections. It's an incredibly busy and complex world, it's just happening in ways that you can't see, like Wi-Fi or fiber-optics.

If all that isn't enough to make you stop and smell the pines, it turns out that trees can 'smell' and can even detect different scents, as well. On top of this, recent studies have found that trees can taste too.

Elms and pines that detect caterpillar saliva while having their leaves eaten. They will then release pheromones that attract parasitic wasps. These wasps will lay their eggs in the caterpillar, and after hatching, the babies will eat the caterpillar from the inside out.

A recent study from Germany has shown that when a deer is eating leaves and breaks a branch, the tree will bring defending chemicals into that area to make the leaves taste bad. Then the deer wanders over to another tree. Contrarily, if a person break a branch by hand the tree will know the difference and send in resins to begin a healing process. Surely, a new respect for the common tree is deserved.

Fungus Fun Fact

The largest organism in the world is a single honey fungus more than 2 miles square sprouting mushrooms, the fruit, that all bore identical genetic information, through an intricate fungal web just inches underfoot. Found right here in Oregon.