- Author: Brenda Altman
“Finding the Mother Tree” Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, by Suzanne Simard
Finding the Mother Tree is a well-written book of the author's many discoveries of forest systems while doing research for her doctorate. Simard grew up in and around forests. She knew that forests were not static but always changing. From personal experiences, she knew that forest wasn't just about trees, even though the lumber industry saw it that way, but it was a whole living biome and each organism contributed to the health of each other. She didn't think clear-cutting, removal of weeds (which included trees other than firs) with herbicides, and adding fertilizers were the best way to maximize growth for firs. The industry only wanted trees that they could sell. The rest of the forest took up too many precious acres for crop fir trees. Simard's research revealed a different story. You could get as much and more tree growth if you didn't clear cut, left some birch, and you didn't use herbicides. In the soil are huge networks of mycorrhizae fungi. This network would be destroyed if herbicides were used.
Unfortunately, logging and lumber interests concluded that birch has no market value and is, therefore, a weed, taking too much precious acreage from more fir trees. Even though her research had been peer-reviewed, published, and duplicated Simard faced an uphill battle in getting it accepted by the larger forestry industry. She attributed this hostility to 1) sexism, most of the foresters were men who didn't want to hear from women; and, 2) her findings flew into old beliefs and practices. The old belief was that in a forest, trees compete with each other for a limited set of light and nutrients. Her findings showed that trees cooperate with each other via the mycorrhizal network sharing nutrients, water, and anti-bacterial agents. The logging industry just didn't want to hear that they were wrong. Simard showed you can harvest trees but not destroy the forest systems while doing it.
Simard mixes in her life and its tribulations including the death of her brother, marriage and its struggles, childbirth, cancer, and survival. She does it skillfully adding personal insights like how mother trees give knowledge to their offspring is similar to human mothers doing the same to their daughters.
Post cancer free she and others did research on Mother Trees. They discovered ancient trees use mycorrhizal networks to impart wisdom to their offspring. The wisdom is in the form of information and nutrients via the microscopic network of mycorrhizae fungus that interconnects them. Dying Mother trees pass on nutrients and genetic information to their offspring to deal with survival.
The book has a deluge of sources for each chapter. Interested readers can follow up on her research by using her sources.
Nature has resources for survival. We must look at a forest as a living organism working in harmony. Each organism big or small contributes to the forest's survival. It is not a competition it is cooperation. Examples can be found in the transfer of nutrients from fish to the trees. The forest provides gravel banks for salmon to spawn. Bears and eagles eat salmon and deposit their bones in the forest thus fertilizing trees and plants.
In the soil vast networks of fungus help, the trees communicate with each other. Clear-cutting or using herbicides can destroy these networks. Simard proposes friendlier ways to manage forests: 1) leave stumps of mother trees; 2) have diversity, leave other tree species intact; and 3) don't use herbicides.
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