Have you ever gone to a forest? What did you notice upon going there? The thick trunks? The canopy? The artfully protruding roots? The fallen leaves? These are indeed, some beautiful things that you can find in a forest. But below the trees, into the earth, hidden from the eyes of man, is a vast underworld that is as beautiful.
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For the past two decades, Suzanne Simard, a professor in the Department of Forest & Conservation at the University of British Columbia, has studied that unappreciated underworld. Her specialty is mycorrhizae: the symbiotic unions of fungi and root long known to help plants absorb nutrients from soil. Beginning with landmark experiments describing how carbon flowed between paper birch and Douglas fir trees, Simard found that mycorrhizae didn’t just connect trees to the earth, but to each other as well.
Simard went on to show how the mycorrhizae-linked trees form networks and exchange nutrients and water “in a literally pulsing web that includes not only trees but all of a forest’s life.” It can be said that it is highly similar to the internet and how we exchange information through the platform.
It’s not just nutrient flows that Simard describes. It’s communication. She—and other scientists studying roots, and also chemical signals and even the sounds plant make—have pushed the study of plants into the realm of intelligence. Rather than biological automata, they might be understood as creatures with capacities that in animals are readily regarded as learning, memory, decision-making, and even agency.
Know more details about this over at Nautilus.
(Image Credit: Picography/ Pixabay)