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How Mycorrhizal Fungi Help Trees ‘Communicate’
Trees are fascinating organisms; and the more research we do on trees the more amazing facts we discover. Did you know that trees are able to communicate with each other to warn of impending danger and share resources? The connections between trees, and how they share information is high-tech nature in action.
How Trees are Connected
Trees work in symbiosis with other organisms in the soil to create a communication network between them. Trees are able to connect through their roots via the mycorrhizal fungi that colonize in healthy soil. Mycorrhizae form a network of mycelium around the root system of plants and trees. These fine fibers essentially form pathways that interconnect trees and allow biological information to pass between them.
How exactly does this happen? Mycorrhizae attached to plant roots improve moisture retention and aid in nutrient absorption. These fungi can quickly break down organic matter, making nutrients more available to trees and other landscape plants – forming a symbiotic relationship.
Recent research coming out of universities in Germany, Switzerland, Australia, and Canada have identified that mycorrhizae fungi are able to emit electrical pulses to surrounding trees. The pulses are very low voltage and usually signal an alarm or distress.
Are Trees Talking?
In addition to mycorrhizae pulses, it has been found that certain trees can also emit sounds through their roots and release pheromones through their leaves to warn surrounding trees of damaging insects. The same pheromones can also be used to attract beneficial insects or produce tannins that cause leaves to taste unpleasant to browsers and insects.
Additional research shows that established trees with the most fungal connections (called mother trees) are able to pump sugar through their roots & fungal networks to surrounding smaller trees; in essence feeding them by fostering photosynthesis. Some tree species will form a network with completely different species of trees.
Read more about specific tree species and their incredible responses to distress in this Smithsonian Magazine article.
How do you increase Mycorrhizal Activity?
Mycorrhizal fungi are abundant in forest situations where organic matter falls to the forest floor and decomposes naturally. In urban locations, we often remove this organic matter and scrape away the top layers of soil that contain these important fungi. Soil exposed to excessive heat, cold, light, compaction or erosion isn’t conducive to beneficial fungal growth.
In order to increase beneficial fungal activity in your soil, apply mulch as a first step. Mulch protects the soil during our harsh seasons and protects beneficial fungi in the soil.
Feed Your Soil
We also suggest feeding your soil in order to boost levels of beneficial mycorrhizae. In our SEASONS program, we add an organic, liquid bio-fertilizer that contains beneficial microbes that help to improve soil and release nutrients – restoring it to emulate a natural soil environment.
Trees are such incredible organisms and researchers are just beginning to decode how they communicate and work together.