An Information Superhighway for Plants

So let me tell you about another website I just discovered that is of interest to the botanically-minded. It’s called Soils Matter, and it’s sponsored by the Soil Science Society of America. These are folks devoted to educating the public about the importance of sustainable soil practices.  They also have a website, www.soils.org.

soil science society

Anyway, I was intrigued by a post called “Do Plants and Soil Really Talk?”. Turns out they kind of do, though it might be more accurate to say that plants communicate to each other through the mycorrhizal fungi found in the soil.

Like many of you, I’ve been aware of the importance of mycorrhizal fungi for helping plants access nutrients in the soil. But research by Suzanne Simard at the University of British Columbia indicates that trees use networks of mycorrhizal fungi to send warnings of diseases or insect infestations via chemical signals.

Texas Live Oak
What is this tree saying to its friends?

Dying trees also use the fungi to transfer resources to healthier trees.

Mycorrhizal fungi are really, really tiny thread-like tubes. They are so tiny that there can be miles of them in a single tablespoon of soil.

So mycorrhizal fungi are kind of like an information superhighway for trees. This brings to mind the infamous moment in 2006 when the 83-year-old Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) explained how the internet was a “series of tubes”. Perhaps the late Senator was thinking of mycorrhizal fungi?

Anyway, the post on Soils Matter also has a link to a fantastic podcast on Radio Lab called “From Tree to Shining Tree”. It’s about 33 minutes long, but it’s really worth a listen if you find this topic interesting.

That’s all for now.

 

20 Comments on “An Information Superhighway for Plants

  1. We recently went to a talk by an author from the US named David George Haskell, about his book called The Songs of Trees…writing about exactly this, really interesting. I’ll listen to the podcast soon.

  2. Thanks for the links. I will listen to that podcast later as I do find this topic of communication between plants quite fascinating. We have a very good woodsman (actually from Austria) who gives lectures on tree ‘behaviour’ and the qualities of wood, which I enjoy hearing… unfortunately only in German though!

  3. I have listened to biologists discussing the mycelium connection. Maybe it is the mycelium honking on that people hear when they say they hear trees talking??

  4. Goodness! All sorts of things going in the natural world, and most people, including me, hardly have a clue.Thanks for the links.

  5. The Hidden Life of Trees by a German forester (whose name escapes me) also discusses this and other phenomena. Fascinating

  6. Plan to listen to the podcast after I shop. I tried to order The Hidden Life of Trees on Amazon not long ago, but it was out of stock. I need to try again. Thanks!

  7. Yes, fascinating stuff! I’ll check out the podcast. So many plant, animal, human, ecosystem, earth, and cosmos things we are still just beginning to understand.

  8. Goodness me, fascinating stuff! I read somewhere that trees also send chemical alerts when being cut down….so many different ways of communicating eh?xxx

  9. Correction on books I mentioned, The Hidden Life of Trees is by Peter Wohlleben, and the talk I went to was by David George Haskell, and his book is called The Songs of Trees.
    Perhaps all interconnected in ideas…

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