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The Wood Wide Web

Several months back we shared a video on our Facebook of the “Wood Wide Web”, an intricate underground hyphal network created by mycorrhizal fungi and used to share information between host plants. A network in which trees and other large rooted plants send and receive sugars and nutrients to aid survival. If a tree belonging to a certain network is malnourished, its peers send the necessary supplements to bring the tree back to health. It’s a fascinating exchange of information and it’s all happening right beneath our feet.

What’s even more impressive is the trees altruistic nature. If a tree is sick or on the verge of death, they will dump their resources through the fungi network and to other trees that would benefit from the nutrients; effectively giving their life for the greater good. Trees also know when others around them are shaded and not receiving adequate sunlight; in which the trees will combine resources to make up for the lack of light. It’s a remarkable and complex relationship between symbiotic fungi and a “family” of trees that are all looking out for each other. They can sense when other trees are in danger and send extra resources to combat the treat. A tree under attack will also send a signal through the network warning others to ready their defenses.

But not all trees are willing to play nice. Some trees, such as the black walnut in which the video mentions, behave in a very sinister way. They hijack resources intended for other trees; selfishly absorbing any and all nutrients they can. Another tactic these “bad” trees (as I will call them) deploy is to poison their peers by sending bad nutrients through the network. These trees work to destroy their so-called “rivals” using the very system that is intended to promote their survival.

After watching this video, I am not only fascinated but intrigued at what we don’t yet know. Why are some trees seemingly programmed to be “good” and others meant to sabotage the network? Did one bad black walnut tree ruin it for the rest of them? And what methods do the “good” trees use to get back at those “bad” trees sucking up all the network’s resources? Either way, nature never ceases to amaze me and there is so much we still don’t know about this complex “Wood Wide Web”. One thing is for certain, I will never look at a forest the same way again. A forest isn’t a bunch of different trees acting independently from one another, but rather one giant organism swapping information and resources in a bid to survive.

You can watch the “Wood Wide Web” BBC video we shared on Facebook by clicking the link here.

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