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Mother Trees

January 2022

By Ranger Amy

Small, red mushroom colony

"Ranger Amy, what is a Mother Tree?" A tall teenage girl asked me this question as we walked along the shady trail.

Moments earlier, I had been kneeling on the ground, pointing out some mushrooms.

Mushroom life

"This part of the mushroom, which is that we think of as a mushroom, is only the fruiting body. It's the reproductive part of the mushroom.

"The mushroom itself lives in the soil as a root-like web called mycelium. This mycelium is all around us. It helps decompose leaf litter and fallen dead trees. The mycelium connects to the roots of the trees, thus creating a network in the forest floor.

Mushrooms amongst leaf litter"This connection is symbiotic, beneficial to both. The mushroom receives extra nutrients from the trees and allows the trees to 'talk' to each other through chemical messages and share nutrients."

You can always tell if that's the first time someone has heard about this because you can see the astonishment and wonder spread across their faces.  

"Have you seen the movie Avatar?"

"Yes, with the blue people."

"Yep, the blue people. Remember how the trees in that movie talk to one another? That's what mushrooms allow to happen in our forests, in our world."

Nurturing trees

Large tree trunk with lichen growing and many small saplings behind itI turn to address the teenage girl and her question about Mother trees.

"A Mother Tree is usually an older tree, but not always. They are the tallest trees in the forest. They reach the top of the canopy and create baby trees.

"The baby trees cannot reach the sunlight, but the Mother tree shares nutrients with them until they can reach the top canopy or sunlight can reach them."

Like the mushrooms, we need trees and trees need us.

Learn more...

If you're interested in learning more, I highly recommend listening to the TED talk with Canadian researcher, Suzanne Simard. Her research is simply amazing and may have paved a different way for how we view and interact with the world around us.