Observe how the Earth has tended its cycles towards an ever greater awareness of interconnection — Earthen Ethic №6
BENEATH THE MOSSY FLOOR of North American temperate forests, there lies a hidden network exchanging the needs, nutrients and character of trees. Observing the lush verdant splendor above, it is easy to overlook that the secret to the forest’s well-being lies below. Starting several centimeters under the soil, a multitude of mycorrhizal fungal species attach to the roots of Spruce, Birch, Douglas Fir and other trees and plants. From one root system to another, white mycellial threads spread tree to tree like an organic fiber-optic web. This ever adjusting symbiotic system assists its members to soak up water, nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients not just from the soil, but from each other.
As one tree’s abundance of a nutrient is sent to its roots for storage, it can be tapped through the network by its neighbors. As trees share nutrients, they also share valuable information. The rates a tree takes and gives tells the others about itself and its environment. A Spruce short on water lets the others know by its added draw. A Birch catching sun through a break in the canopy, informs the others with the extra sugars it shares. A Douglas fir attacked by insects alerts its neighbours by a sudden shift in its pattern of give and take. Often, these signals can result in forest wide adaptions — from the the release of defensive toxins to fend off an infestation, to the mobilization of new roots and the reconfiguration of connections. Affectionately known by scientists as the ‘wood wide web’, as a new sapling plugs in at the edge of the forest, the consciousness of the collective expands. Node by node, tree by tree, the mycorrhizal network spreads. So aware, come damage, drought, or whatever disaster, both tree and forest ever augment their capacity to respond, adapt and thrive.
Temperate mycorrhizal forest networks, are just one example of the correlation between ecological awareness and ecological enrichment. Not only do similar fungal connections underlie other forests around the world, throughout countless other ecosystems we can observe inter-species exchanges of information. Whether a flower’s scent signaling readiness to a…