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    What Mother Trees Can Teach Us For Mother's Day

    by Meaghan Weeden May 07, 2024 4 min read

    Angel Oak Johns Island South Carolina
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    Celebrating Mother's Day In the Forest

    Mother's Day is right around the corner, and I think we can all agree that moms are pretty amazing. After all, they bring us into this world (which is no small feat), nurture us, guide us, and support us during every stage of our lives. Through thick and thin, they’re there for us to lean on, freely sharing their time and love. And in the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, we can sometimes lose sight of that. That's why Mother's Day is important and why Mother's Day 2024 is the perfect opportunity to let your mom know how loved and appreciated she is by planting a tree for her!

    And in that spirit of appreciation, let’s expand our notion of “mother” and turn our gaze to another nurturing, supportive — and often under appreciated — presence: Mother Trees. According to the Mother Tree Project, headed by groundbreaking researcher Suzanne Simard, “Mother Trees are large trees within a forest that act as centralized hubs, supporting communication and nutrient exchange amongst trees.”

    These massive ancients are aptly named "Mother Trees" because they recognize kin, supply resources, share wisdom, sound alarms, support networks of hundreds of trees, foster deep connections and alliances, and pass their legacies down to future generations.

    Amazing Things Mother Trees Do:

    • Use their deep roots to draw up groundwater, and then share it with shallow-rooted seedlings.
    • Detect the distress signals of neighboring trees and respond by sending them nutrients.
    • Reduce their root competition to make elbow room for their "kids" (saplings that are genetically related to them).
    • Direct sugar and other lifesaving resources such as carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous toward the roots of young saplings
    • Inoculate saplings with mycorrhizal fungi, pulling them into the supportive embrace of the wood wide web, where life-saving help is available.

    And speaking of fungi, it's ubiquitous: one teaspoon of forest soil contains several miles of fungal filament, coating every particle of soil and working its way into tiny crevices that tree roots can't reach. With its help, Mother Trees are able to support entire forests, serving as “hubs” in the interconnected forest web of life.

    When Mother Trees are injured, dying, or in their twilight years, they deliberately pass their resources on to their "children." While science hasn’t determined exactly how they’re able to recognize their kin, the implications are clear: by offering support, Mother Trees ensure their genetic line will run unimpeded. But Mother Trees don't just support their own immediate families — or even their own species.

    Close-up image of Fungal mycelium (Mycorrhizae), which facilitate symbiotic relationships between plants and fungi

    Diversity, Community, and Connection Are Vital to Forest Health

    Interspecies alliances are common — and necessary — in the face of threats such as insect colonization, tree diseases, deforestation, and climate-related disturbances like droughts and wildfires. Relationships like those between conifers and deciduous species such as Birch and Douglas fir are a perfect example of this. When Birch trees are leafed out, they can shade out Douglas fir. But once Birches drop their leaves, fir takes advantage of the extra sunlight. That might seem like proof of competition, not cooperation — but under the surface, these old friends pass nutrients back and forth throughout the year, sharing the bounty of their seasonal advantages.

    In drier conditions, Mother Trees provide their more fragile neighbors with essential carbon, water and nutrients to keep them alive. Their presence increases seedling survival by as much as 400% — and thanks to the alliances they foster, entire forests are stronger and more resilient against threats big and small. For example, deciduous trees have broader leaves that hold more water, contain less resin and are less flammable than conifers. As a result, their presence in mixed evergreen forests helps reduce the risk of wildfires.

    But if Darwin is to be believed, we’re all working against each other in a selfish, individualistic drive to win the race against time, right? And within traditional forestry, that theory has established deep roots, affecting how we view trees — and by extension, how we manage them. While it’s certainly true that trees compete, it’s also true that they work together, forming deep connections and intricate networks. They lean on each other, sometimes literally, for survival — and are stronger for it.

    angel oak mother tree

    What Can We Learn From Mother Trees?

    Mother Trees remind us of our better nature. They prove that true strength is reflected in our ability to help each other, and that we’re at our best when our communities are healthy, our connections strong, and our resources equitably distributed. They remind us to share when we can, and to give a helping hand anyone who needs it. Just like our own mothers, from root to sky, they contain a lifetime of wisdom and inspiration.

    Want to show your appreciation for all the things mothers and trees do for us? Plant a tree for your mom today!

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    Meaghan Weeden
    Meaghan Weeden

    Meaghan works to share our story far and wide, manages our blog calendar, coordinates with the team on projects + campaigns, and ensures our brand voice is reflected across channels. With a background in communications and an education in environmental conservation, she is passionate about leveraging her creativity to help the environment!