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Trees Recognize Their Offspring

Trees talk to each other and recognize their offspring. That's the title of an interesting article by Derek Markham updated January 11, 2021 on treehugger.com.


In it, Markham wrote that after large tracts of land left treeless from clearcutting are replanted, many people think that replanting is successful. But when one tree is replanted to replace another that has been cut down, it doesn't take into consideration an important reality. Trees form families, and mothers take special care of their tree offspring.


The article quoted forest ecologist Suzanne Simard, who spoke at TEDSummit 2016. She has spent three decades researching trees in Canada's forests. Simard told the listeners that trees are much more than a collection of plants independent of each other.


She began to wonder if trees could recognize their own kin like parents recognize their children and mother grizzlies know their own cubs. So she and others began an experiment in which they grew mother trees with both their kin and with strangers' seedlings. Among the measurements they used was isotope tracing. With it, they traced carbon and other defense signals "moving from an injured mother tree down her trunk into the mycorrhizal network and into her neighboring seedlings." A mycorrhizal network is made up of underground networks created by mycorrhizal fungi that eventually result in mushrooms. Those fungi connect individual plants together. They transfer water, carbon, nitrogen, and other nutrients and minerals.


The experiment revealed that mother trees really do recognize their own kin. They do many things to help their seedlings prosper. Mother trees send their own seedlings "more carbon below ground," Simard said. "They even reduce their own root competition to make elbow room for their kids. When mother trees are injured or dying, they also send messages of wisdom on to the next generation of seedlings."


Without any visible proof except my own experience, I've noticed if you spend enough time around certain trees with a respectful attitude, they come to trust you. In a way I don't understand, they let other trees know they can trust you too. If you think that couldn't be, try experimenting with the idea. Spend time around trees you enjoy. Express gratitude for them. Meditate near them. Listen with your heart to sense if they need something from you.


Once you establish a trusting connection with one or more trees, when you travel somewhere else you may sense that trees you don't know want your attention. Somehow they have learned you're someone to be trusted. If you get to know trees, don't be surprised if other trees want your attention as well.


Our world is more connected that we often realize. Just as trees communicate with their own seedlings, they can develop a relationship with us as well. Those connections are beneficial to us if we take the time to cultivate an appreciation for trees.

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A cottonwood tree

If you've spent time among trees, you may have enjoyed their individual shapes and colors. You might even have felt more peaceful, more connected to nature.


Trees, flowers, bushes, all kinds of plants can help us to feel more consciously aware of our connection to nature. It's easy to rush through an experience because we're so busy, but if we give ourselves time to spend with trees, we might feel calmer and more relaxed. The fiction and non-fiction books I've written about trees or with trees as a character all developed as the result of calming, healing experiences I've had around trees. Those experiences told me there's a great deal more to trees and their abilities than many of us realize.


Though some people perceive plants as incommunicative, insensitive and in a vegetative state, more scientists and biologists are coming to recognize they are much more than that. One of the most recent books about this growing awareness, The Incredible Journey of Plants, was written by plant neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso, who studies the intelligence and behavior of plants. He is the director of the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology (LINV) in Florence, Italy.


An article about his book appeared April 5, 2020 in a United Kingdom publication, The Guardian. To see it, go to https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/05/smarty-plants-are-our-vegetable-cousins-more-intelligent-than-we-realise.


He has studied how plants are able to problem solve, memorize, communicate, and how they have social lives. Unlike humans, plants do not have a brain. Instead, Mancuso said, they convey that brain-type function throughout their entire structure. They are, in a sense, one huge brain. In addition, they are aware of themselves and of what is around them. In The Guardian article, Mancuso is quoted as saying, "My personal opinion is that there is no life that is not aware of itself. For me, it's impossible to imagine any form of life that is not able to be intelligent, to solve problems."


Plants are more sensitive than animals, he says. "That is not an opinion," he told The Guardian. "This is based on thousands of pieces of evidence. We know that a single root apex is able to detect at least 20 different chemical and physical parameters, many of which we are blind to."


In his book, Mancuso explains that plants are social and communicative both in their structures above ground and through their roots. Other life forms have subtle electromagnetic fields, and plants are able to detect them. They warn of danger, try to scare off predators, and attract pollinating insects by using chemicals and scents. When caterpillars chew on corn, for example, the corn sends out a chemical distress signal that is responded to by parasitic wasps who follow that signal and attack the caterpillars.


Plants detect sound and vibration too. That's how they find running water, which they need to survive. Because they have such a slow pace of life, it's easy for people to overlook the intelligence of plants. They have learned how to survive for centuries in sometimes stark environments.


The idea that humans have reached the highest form of life on Earth is a very dangerous idea, Mancuso believes. "When you feel yourself better than all the other humans or other living organisms, you start to use them," he told The Guardian. "That is exactly what we've been doing."


Though Mancuso has his detractors, more and more botanists are embracing the study of plant neurobiology. People are becoming more open to the idea of plants as intelligent species that have their own ways of behaving.


The next time you walk among trees or other plants, consider that you may be sharing space with some amazing aspects of nature. If you take time to meditate among trees or other plants, you might discover that it's easier to maintain the quiet peacefulness of a meditative state.

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