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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Social Lives of Trees: Sci­ence Reveals How Trees Mys­te­ri­ous­ly Talk to Each Oth­er, Work Togeth­er & Form Nur­tur­ing Fam­i­lies

This 392-Year-Old Bon­sai Tree Sur­vived the Hiroshi­ma Atom­ic Blast & Still Flour­ish­es Today: The Pow­er of Resilience

3,000-Year-Old Olive Tree on the Island of Crete Still Pro­duces Olives Today

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

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Comments (4)
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  • Carola Guzmán says:

    Greet­ings. I would appre­ci­ate receiv­ing your pub­li­ca­tions through e mail. Thanks.
    Car­o­la Guzmán.

  • Joanna M Panzera says:

    This is fas­ci­nat­ing. Thanks so much! Best, Joan­na Panz­era.

  • Matej Kovacic says:

    I am strong­ly con­vin­cied that plants and trees comu­ni­cate between them. I have two proofs.

    Some years ago, in Aus­tralia, trees were sick and their skin looked like deformed and sick. A group of musi­cians and an oches­tra went in the for­est for many days to play (most­ly brass and wind instru­ments) the ses­sion and in time the health con­di­tion of trees changed.

    And the oth­er proof I have that plants (in fact all liv­ing beings) emit bio soni­fi­ca­tion datas, which can be trans­formed into light or sound sig­nals.

    Inter­est­ing sig­nals exist of trees, which can not be detect­ed by our ears and eyes.

    Thank you so much for this page and infor­ma­tions you shared about trees!


  • David winckle says:

    I am very inter­est­ed in your the­o­ry about plant and human com­mu­ni­ca­tion. David

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