The Secret Language of Trees: A Charming Animated Lesson Explains How Trees Share Information with Each Other

Shel Silverstein’s bittersweet classic The Giving Tree paints an inaccurate view of trees as simple, easily victimized loners.

If only the titular character had had a same-species best friend around to talk some sense into her when her human pal started helping himself to her branches… You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me Tree, or maybe No Bullshit Tree.

You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me Tree could’ve passed some vital nutrients to The Giving Tree, whose self care regimen is clearly not cutting it, via the mycorrhizae system, a vast network of filament-like tree roots and symbiotic soil fungi.




That same system could serve as the switchboard by which You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me Tree could alert the extended Tree family to the dangers of prolonged association with cute, but needy kids.

Imagine the upbeat ending, had Silverstein gone light—The Giving Tree N’ Friends.

Not as poignant perhaps, but not entirely inaccurate from a scientific standpoint.

As forest ecologists Suzanne Simard and Camille Defrenne point out in the animated TED-Ed lesson, "The Secret Language of Trees," above, trees have large family (forgive me) trees, whose living members are in constant communication, using the mycorrhizae system.

Hosting multiple fungal species allows each tree to connect with a wider network, as each group of symbiotic shrooms spreads information to their own personal crews, party line style.

On the other end, the receiving tree can identify its relation to the tree of origin, whether they are both members of what we humans refer to as a nuclear family, or much more distant relations.

And while this giant subterranean system for sharing information and resources is specific to trees, when we consider how many other forest denizens depend on trees for food and shelter, the message system seems even more vital to the planet’s health.

Defrenne and Simard’s full TED-Ed lesson, complete with quiz, customizable lesson plan, and discussion topics, can be found here.

Simard delves more deeply into the topic in the 18-minute TED Talk, "How Trees Talk to Each Other," below.

View more of animator Avi Ofer’s charming work here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch the Meditative Cinepoem “H20”: A Landmark Avant-Garde Art Film from 1929

We all stand to benefit from a bit of hydrotherapy, but in these hectic, trying times, it's challenging to find the time for a bath, let alone come up with the dough for a tropical vacation or soothing spa experience.

Given the circumstances, the nearly hundred-year-old experimental film above may be your best option.

In 1929, photograher and filmmaker Ralph Steiner turned his camera on a number of watery subjects—hydrants, waterfalls, streams, raindrops disturbing placid puddled surfaces....




The result was H20, an 11-and-a-half minute cinepoem, considered by film historians, The New York Times noted in Steiner’s obit, to be “the second American art film.”

(Have a look at James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber’s impressionistic 1928 adaptation of Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher if you’re curious about the first.)

Photoplay magazine bestowed its first prize for amateur filmmaking upon H20, praising Steiner’s pure abstract patterns and astonishing tempo, and gushing that "the picture is bound to attract wide attention and a great deal of discussion wherever it is shown.”

He revisited the subject two years later with Surf and Seaweed, above, though his fascination with movement was not limited to the natural world, as evidenced by 1930’s Mechanical Principles.

The hubbub may have died down a bit in the 90 years since H20’s release, though Steiner’s spirit lives on in a number of young experimental filmmakers—witness Norbert Shieh’s award-winning Washes, Dave Krunal’s Waterbomb, and Jaden Chen’s A Cup of Water, below.

H2O has been preserved for posterity by the Library of Congress’ United States National Film Registry. The original piano score in the version featured on Open Culture was composed by William Pearson.

Download a free copy of H20 from the Internet archive for use in future trying times.

Steiner's films will be added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc.

via Aeon

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City in February as host of  Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

NASA Captures the World on Fire

"The world is on fire. Or so it appears in this image from NASA's Worldview. The red points overlaid on the image designate those areas that by using thermal bands detect actively burning fires."

The image and caption above come from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. On a related page, they go into some more detail, explaining why good parts of Africa, Chile, Brazil and North America are aflame this summer. Droughts, extreme temperatures, agricultural practices--they're all part of a worrying picture. View NASA's picture in a larger format here.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

via Atlas Obscura

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A Map Shows What Happens When Our World Gets Four Degrees Warmer: The Colorado River Dries Up, Antarctica Urbanizes, Polynesia Vanishes

Humanity faces few larger questions than what, exactly, to do about climate change — and, in a sense larger still, what climate change even means. We've all heard a variety of different future scenarios laid out, each of them based on different data. But data can only make so much of an impact unless translated into a form with which the imagination can readily engage: a visual form, for instance, and few visual forms come more tried and true than the map.

And so "leading global strategist, world traveler, and best-selling author" Parag Khanna has created the map you see above (view in a larger format here), which shows us the state of our world when it gets just four degrees celsius warmer. "Micronesia is gone – sunk beneath the waves," writes Big Think's Frank Jacobs in an examination of Khanna's map. "Pakistan and South India have been abandoned. And Europe is slowly turning into a desert."




But "there is also good news: Western Antarctica is no longer icy and uninhabitable. Smart cities thrive in newly green and pleasant lands. And Northern Canada, Scandinavia, and Siberia produce bountiful harvests to feed the hundreds of millions of climate refugees who now call those regions home."

Not quite as apocalyptic a climate-change vision as some, to be sure, but it still offers plenty of considerations to trouble us. Lands in light green, according to the map's color scheme, will remain or turn into "food-growing zones" and "compact high-rise cities." Yellow indicates "uninhabitable desert," brown areas "uninhabitable due to floods, drought, or extreme weather." In dark green appear lands with "potential for reforestation," and in red those places that rising sea levels have rendered utterly lost.

Those last include the edges of many countries in Asia (and all of Polynesia), as well as the area where the southeast of the United States meets the northeast of Mexico and the north and south coasts of South America. But if you've ever wanted to live in Antarctica, you won't have to move into a research base: within a couple of decades, according to Khanna's data, that most mysterious continent could become unrecognizable and "densely populated with high-rise cities," presumably with their own hipster quarters. But where best to grow the ingredients for its avocado toast?

Anyone interested in Parag Khanna's map will want to check out his book, Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization.

via Big Think

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Google Street View Lets You Walk in Jane Goodall’s Footsteps and Visit the Chimpanzees of Tanzania

As mentioned here last month, Dr. Jane Goodall is now teaching her first online course through Masterclass. In 29 video lessons, her course will teach you about the three pillars of her lifelong work: environmental conservation, animal intelligence, and activism. But that's not the only way you can digitally engage with Jane Goodall's world. Over on Google Maps, you can take a visual journey through Gombe National Park in Tanzania, where Goodall conducted her historic chimpanzee research, starting back in July, 1960. As Google writes: this visual initiative lets you experience "what it’s like to be Jane for a day." You can "peek into her house, take a dip in Lake Tanganyika, spot the chimp named Google and try to keep up with Glitter and Gossamer." Completed in partnership with Tanzania's National Parks and the Jane Goodall Institute, this project contributes to an effort to use satellite imagery and mapping to protect 85 percent of the remaining chimpanzees in Africa. To get the most out of Street View Gombe, visit the accompanying website Jane Goodall's Roots and Shoots.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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The Philosophical Appreciation of Rocks in China & Japan: A Short Introduction to an Ancient Tradition

In addition to summing up Socrates and his European heirs, Alain de Botton has also applied his five-minute animated video approach to the very basics of Eastern philosophy. While offering its introductory surveys, the series may hopefully spur viewers on to greater appreciation of, for example, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, and Japanese Zen master Sen no Rikyu, who refined the tea ceremony as a meticulous meditative ritual. Rikyu’s practice shows us how much philosophical and religious traditions (often a distinction without a difference) in Japan and China engage rigorously with everyday objects and routines as often as they do with texts and lectures.

Yesterday, we brought you several short explanations of one such practice, Kintsugi, the wabi sabi art of “finding beauty in broken things” by turning cracked and broken pottery into gilded, beautifully flawed vessels. Several hundred years earlier, in 826 AD, renowned Tang Dynasty poet and civil servant Bai Juyi discovered a pair of oddly shaped rocks that captivated his attention. Taking them home to his study, he then wrote a poem about them, influenced by Daoism’s reverence for the forces of nature and inspired by the hard evidence such forces carved into the rocks. Like the broken pottery of Japan’s Kintsugi, Bai’s rocks come in part to symbolize human frailty. In this case, he casts the rocks as friends in his lonely old age, asking them, “Can you keep company with an old man like myself?”




After Bai Juyi, aesthetic meditations on the beauty of rock formations became highly popular and quickly refined into “four principal criteria,” writes the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “thinness (shou), openness (tou), perforations (lou), and wrinkling (zhou).” The found artifacts are often known as “scholar’s rocks”—a mistranslation, de Botton says, of a term meaning “spirit stones”—and are chosen for their natural wildness, as well as shaped by human hands. They were placed in gardens and studies, and “became a favorite and enduring pictorial genre.” During the early Song dynasty, such stones were “constant sources of inspiration,” and were “valued quite as highly as any painting or calligraphic scroll.”

So highly-prized were these objects, in fact, that they appear to “have hastened the collapse of the Northern Song Empire,” through a mania not unlike that which drove the tulip craze in the 17th century Netherlands. As did many Chinese cultural traditions—including Zen Buddhism—the love of rocks crossed over into Japan, where it was adapted “in a particularly Japanese way” in the 15th century, inspiring the “subdued, smooth,” minimalist rock gardens we’re likely familiar with, if only through their consumer novelty versions.

As per usual, de Botton imbues his lesson with a takeaway moral: rock reverence teaches us that “wisdom can hang off bits of the natural world just as well as issuing from books.” We may also see the love of rocks as a kind of anti-consumerist practice, in which we shift the attention we typically lavish on disposable objects destined for landfills, trashheaps, and plastic-littered oceans, and instead apply it to beautiful bits of the natural world, which require few investments of labor or capital to enrich our lives, and can be found right outside our doors, if we’re careful and attentive enough to see them.

Related Content:

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Hummingbird Whisperer: Meet the UCLA Scientist Who Has Befriended 200 Hummingbirds

Common wisdom, and indelible memories of The Birds, warn that feeding seagulls, pigeons and other creatures who travel in flocks is a can of worms best left unopened.

But what about hummingbirds?

Melanie Barboni is research geochemist in UCLA’s Department of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences. Near the UCLA Court of Sciences she took a break from volcanos and the moon long enough to hang a feeder filled with sugar water outside her ground floor office window.




This complimentary buffet proved such a hit, she hung up more.

Two years later, Barboni is serving a colony of over 200 hummingbirds from four 80-ounce feeders. Their metabolism requires them to consume 8 to 10 times their body weight on a daily basis.

Barboni’s service to her tiny jewel-toned friends extends well beyond the feeders. She’s diverted campus tree trimmers from interfering with them during nesting season, and given public talks on the habitat-destroying effects of climate change. She’s collaborating with another professor and UCLA’s Chief Sustainability Officer Nurit Katz to establish a special garden on campus for hummingbirds and their fellow pollinators.

The intimacy of this relationship is something she’s dreamed of since her birdwatching childhood in Switzerland where the only hummingbirds available for her viewing were the ones in books. Her dream came true when a fellowship took her from Princeton to Los Angeles, where hummingbirds live year-round.

Some longtime favorites now perch on their benefactor’s hand while feeding, or even permit themselves to be held and stroked. A few like to hang out inside the office, where the warm glow of Barboni’s computer monitor is a comforting presence on inclement days.

She’s bestowed names on at least 50: Squeak, Stardust, Tiny, Shy…

(Show of hands from those who wish she’d named them all after noted geologists: Mary Anning, Eugene Merle ShoemakerCecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin...)

Get to know the UCLA hummingbirds better through Melanie Barboni’s up-close-and-personal documentary photos. Learn more about the species itself through the National Geographic documentary below.

via The Kids Should See This

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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