Did you know that trees in a healthy forest are all connected? They are! Below the forest floor lies an extensive, complex network of hair-like fungus threads called mycelium that connects trees. Fungus! The millions of pathways in this fungal network between trees works in much the same way as the internet; thus, it is often referred to as the “wood wide web.”
Trees use the network to share resources. Older trees (sometimes called hub or mother trees) will pass sugars to saplings for photosynthesis, especially needed when small trees are shaded by their taller neighbors. They also pull up water for young trees in times of drought. Trees also share information through the network. If one tree is attacked by insects or disease, it sends distress signals to other trees, allowing them time to bolster their defenses. And when old trees are dying, they dump all of their resources back into the network.
The mycorrhizal network is connected to the root tips of trees. This relationship between trees and fungi is a symbiotic one. The fungi receive sugars and carbon from the trees; in exchange, the fungi release nutrients and water to the trees and provide the trees a communication network. Ultimately, this interconnected network assures the overall health of the forest.
So the next time you walk through a healthy forest, think about what lies below every step you take and how the trees are talking to and helping each other.