My excuse for not finishing this one sooner is that I was trying to catch up on magazines, thanks to all the “subtle” hints that I have too many piles of them. I did at least get all the horse and decorating magazines finished, so last night I got myself to the end of Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, by Suzanne Simard (2021). What a journey this book is!
If this doesn’t make you go hug a tree, nothing will.
I got the book the minute it came out, which is no surprise given how many books on trees, how trees talk to each other, and forest ecology I’ve read in the past couple of years! Simard wrote it in an interesting way, where autobiographical sections are interspersed with some pretty hard-core science content. If you just like stories, you can skim the science; if you just want to know exactly how trees communicate with and support one another, you can bypass the story of her life (but you’d be missing out on an interesting life!).
Simard was born, full of curiosity, into a western Canadian family full of loggers and tough woodland pioneers. It’s no wonder she ended up as a biologist. And she, too, is a pioneer. She had a very hard time getting anyone to listen to her as she explained the effects of clear cutting and re-planting as it was practiced at the end of the 20th century. I really came to admire her tenacity and conviction that she was right.
Of course, it helped that all her data backed her up, and that eventually she got enough grad students and fellow researchers to make it clear that trees help each other and need each other to survive. I’m glad she did, because her findings are fascinating. Different types of trees are connected, and certain ones use different kinds of fungi help different kinds of trees in their connections, too. It’s all complicated, as one would expect, but fascinating.
The highlight of the book is when Simard talks about “mother trees,” which appear in healthy forests. They are very old, and very well connected. They give their energy to new seedlings and distressed neighbors. It kept making me sad to read about them getting cut down, but I have to credit Simard for acknowledging that we need wood; we just need to be careful with managing forests so they can keep giving us wood!
I know the tree I have pictures of here is or was a mother tree. Just look at her beautiful roots.
Forests that are managed and have all the trees the same age, planted in rows, don’t get the advantages of having mother trees, nor of the diversity of companion trees and understory plants necessary for optimal health, resistance to pests, and protection from diseases.
I’m so glad scientists, and now foresters, are listening to Simard, and that she has passed her work on to her daughter. This woman is an amazing role model for us all.