How Mushrooms and Trees Communicate and Thrive

Share the Love!

How Mushrooms and Trees Communicate and Thrive

Deep in the forests, in places uncharted or untouched by man, there is an incredible and unfathomable network of living organisms that accomplish things we never dreamed they could before. The ability for other living organisms to communicate with each other, even organisms that many of us view as the lowest on the “food chain” of life, is actually astounding. One of these amazing instances is how mushrooms and trees communicate and thrive in their natural habitat.

That’s right – mushrooms are truly magical, and that’s not just because so many species of mushrooms are dubbed “magic mushrooms” for their hallucinogenic properties. They’re truly magical because they’re so complex beyond our understanding.

How Do Mushrooms Work, Exactly?

When you think of mushrooms, you probably get the image of the cute little mushroom cap popping up out of the damp soil. While this image is correct, it’s actually leaving out a much bigger picture. The mushroom caps you see popping up are the equivalent of the fruit that grows on a tree – they are the reproductive parts of a much larger system that we cannot see underground.

To fully understand how mushrooms and trees communicate, you’ll need to understand the different parts of the mushroom network. The three major parts of the mushroom network to understand are the mushrooms themselves, their spores, and the mycelium.

What is Mycelium?

Mycelium looks and acts a lot like roots do for a tree. While we cannot see the mycelium unless we dig it up and study it, the structures are quite massive. Mycelium spreads out much further and wider than the mushroom caps we can see, yet they are still only made of thread-like roots that grow no more than a few thousandths of a millimeter in width per thread.

Mycelium spreads and penetrates food sources nearby, such as organic materials from which it can extract sugar. To extract sugar, mycelium needs to secrete enzymes that break down the organic materials it attaches to.

While mycelium sounds like its structure is fragile, it’s actually a very complex and intentional system of threads that last well beyond the lifespan of any mushrooms it sprouts! In fact, mycelium continues sprouting new mushrooms throughout its lifetime to continue the cycle of life.

Because mycelium is so complex, researchers have been discovering new ways to take advantage of such a resilient and interesting structure, such as paving way for new opportunities in sustainability and healthcare.

What Do Mushrooms Do?

The “fruits” of the mycelium network are the mushrooms we see sprouting up from soil or wood. There are too many species of mushrooms to count, so it’s hard to define exactly how they look. The most popular structure of a mushroom looks like a trunk with a cap on top, and even these types of mushrooms come in endless colors and variations. There are also mushrooms and fungi that grow more like tubes or mounds.

The most important job of the mushroom is to produce and distribute spores, which are the reproductive “seeds” that spread and set up new mycelium networks if they land in the right places. These spores root and grow mycelium much like a seed from the fruit of a tree would under the right environmental conditions.

Once the job of the mushroom is done – whether its spores are spread by the wind, passing animals, or other transportive means – it dies away. When it comes to the lifespan of a mushroom, though, there is a wide range depending on the species. While some smaller, simpler species of mushrooms can be fully grown in just one day, other large mushrooms can take a few months.

What’s So Important About Fungi and Mushrooms?

For many people, mushrooms are gross, ugly, and are signs of moldy and damp areas. For others, they are merely good for mealtime. In the wild, though, mushrooms play an extremely important function in the environment’s survival. We should truly look at them as a sign of rebirth!

Fungi and mushrooms are an entirely separate category of life all on their own. While plants use photosynthesis to generate energy from the sun and animals eat food to digest nutrients, fungi externally digest nutrients before they absorb the food into their network.  Fungi break down dead and decaying organisms in the environment to fuel themselves, making them nature’s great recycler.

Without mushrooms and mycelium in our environment, the world would be a wasteland of dead plants. Fungi is the reason why dead plants can decay and make way for new life.

Okay, so maybe you already know that. But did you know that there’s an even cooler function for mushrooms and their mycelium in the wild? It has to do with allowing trees to communicate!

How Mushrooms and Trees Communicate

Despite popular knowledge, plants DO talk! In fact, trees can communicate with their neighboring trees much like herds of animals can communicate and work together for survival. How do they do it?

As you can imagine, the lifespan and survival prowess of mycelium underground lends itself to quick expansion. Spores continue to plant and create new mycelium networks in the soil and organic materials endlessly, and mycelium can literally live forever. Mycelium, therefore, expands underground and connects tree roots to other tree roots, creating a massive communication network that trees have learned to utilize for survival.

The network that mycelium creates for its own survival is also a tool for symbiosis with trees. The trees use the mycelium to transport nutrients and messages to each other. The mycelium graciously allows the trees to use them as a network for communication and offers nitrogen and phosphorous to the trees. In exchange, the mycelium is allowed to extract sugar for fuel from the tree roots. Scientists have found that mycelium actually digests 30% of the sugar that trees create from their photosynthesis efforts.

This symbiotic network is now referred to as the mycorrhizal network.

Wait… Trees Do What?

I bet you never imagined that scientists could claim that “mother” trees talk to younger trees to warn them of environmental threats. Old, wise oaks can tell saplings not to chase the light or shed leaves for fear of dooming their successful growth. One tree can even warn another tree of an impending drought or spreading disease.

Mainly, trees use their mycorrhizal networks to send resources back and forth to their fellow trees. Often, they share carbon that they’ve harvested from the atmosphere to ensure that the trees within their network are all thriving.

Beyond their carbon food, they can also send messages to alert others of danger. These trees use a method called “allelopathy,” which is the transmission of certain chemicals from one tree to another to warn them of a specific type of threat.

In response, the neighboring trees can act appropriately to defend themselves from the threat. Usually, this means they will excrete certain chemicals to stop the growth of a predatorial plant, prevent spreading disease, or ward off threatening infestations of insects.

This awareness and subsequent defense against environmental threats don’t even stop at biological and natural threats. Scientists have been able to prove that forests of trees can become aware of major destruction like deforestation and send warnings through their mycorrhizal networks to their fellow trees!

Believe It Or Not, Trees Can Be Tribal

Your mind is probably already blown away learning about mycorrhizal networks, and it certainly is a complex concept on its own. To make it even more complicated, trees can actually decide which trees they want to communicate with through these fungal networks.

Not just any mycelium network can create a symbiotic relationship with any tree species. Certain fungi prefer specific tree species so that both the tree and the fungi can benefit to the fullest extent from the exchanged nutrients. While it is believed that all trees are capable of forming these mycorrhizal networks, not all trees take advantage of them due to the lack of the correct fungi in their environment.

The majority of mycelium-tree symbiotic relationships consist of the “arbuscular mycorrhizal network,” which creates extensions of complicated structures that attach to the trees. The other remaining 35% or so of networks use combinations of fungi.

In addition, trees can prefer to only network with trees of their own species! For example, a birch tree might only be willing to connect with other birch trees. How can they tell? Specific tree species send off unique chemical compounds that identify them, and other trees can either recognize or not recognize that compound as their own unique compound.

Scientists have named this sort of “tribal” behavior within species as “kin recognition.” While they can’t prove that this kin recognition is happening for a specific reason, scientists believe that trees do this to ensure that trees of their own species survive and outlast other species so that they can become dominant in the area through easier reproduction.

At the same time, there are species of trees that are willing to connect with each other and share space within the same mycorrhizal network. Scientists have found birch and fir trees connecting and interacting through mycelium as a way to improve their resilience and longevity. Diversity is important, even nature knows it!

What Exactly Do the Communication Signals Look Like Amongst Trees?

Similarly to how scientists delve deep into researching the vocalizations and body language communications of animals, scientists are just now realizing that they can begin to decifer the language of trees. How mushrooms and trees communicate is one thing, but now how do trees use the mushrooms to communicate with each other?

In short, researchers describe the communication signals amongst trees as hormonal or chemical messages and slow-pulsing electrical signals through the mycorrhizal network. One Swiss scientists, Edward Farmer, is beginning to decipher the electric pulses that trees send to each other. He now believes that the majority of communication is a language of stress and warnings – they mainly communicate dangers to each other rather than content social speech.

Another scientist based in Arizona, Monica Gagliano, has been working on detecting if trees also communicate by emitting noises. She believes that trees can create sounds at a frequency of 220 in their roots, which is inaudible to humans but would sound like a crackling noise.

Finally, scientists have discovered that trees communicate with each other through the air and actually have senses of smell and taste. A great example is the way acacia trees can emit warning pheromones to surrounding trees that giraffes are beginning to eat their leaves. In response, the surrounding trees begin producing tannins at such large quantities that the leaves become sickening or even deadly to large herbivores.

Humorously enough, giraffes have become wise to this tree’s ability, so they’ve begun feeding downwind to prevent the trees from being able to send warning smells in the air.

Another intriguing example is the pine tree and the elm tree have to release warning pheromones when they detect catepillar saliva on their leaves. These pheromones are actually meant to attract the very species of wasp that enjoy feasting on catepillars! Many trees also recognize the taste of deer saliva and will begin producing chemicals to make the leaves taste bad to ward the predators off. We know that these chemicals only happen in response to the saliva because other kinds of injuries, such as snapping a branch, do not elicit the same response.

Peter Wohlleben’s Controversial Yet Astounding Work

Learning how mushrooms and trees communicate and thrive isn’t just a startling discovery for you. Scientists are still trying to grasp just how far this communication among plants goes. In fact, a forester in Germany has only in the past few years put together what is now his life’s work for a large audience in his book The Hidden Life of Trees.

Peter wanders through the forests near him, pours himself over research, and makes astounding discoveries about how these mycellium networks and communicative properties of trees actually stabilizes and supports the whole ecosystem. In one example, Peter discusses how he once came upon a once-gigantic tree that was felled with only the stump remaining. Upon a closer look, Peter discovered that the stump was still alive and processing chlorophyll, which would be impossible without his deeper understanding of the mycorrhizal networks.

How is this stump alive? Peter explains that the surrounding trees are still pumping nutrients and water to the stump despite its inability to provide for the rest of the trees in the network. “They are reluctant to abandon their dead, especially when it’s a big, old, revered matriarch.”

The amazing network of trees doesn’t end there. Peter further asks us to explain how such small young seedlings in dense forests can possibly obtain the sunlight and water they need to survive when crowded out by much older, larger trees.

In answer, he explains that the surrounding trees in their network provide for them so that they can grow and thrive. These seedlings receive the sugar they need through their roots rather than by photosynthesizing all of it themselves. In other words, Peter says, the mothers “suckle their young.”

Peter understands that applying such anthropomorthic phrases to trees is overdoing it by a little. At the same time, he hopes that the way he presents the community of trees in a way that’s highly intelligent and social, full of respect and support for each other, will help others see nature in a different light. He hopes that it will raise awareness for just how destructive and horrifying actions like deforestation really are, and that the world will wake up to having a deeper respect for our natural world.

What Can We Learn from How Mushrooms and Trees Communicate and Thrive?

The Universe is all interconnected. To dismiss the complexity and sentience of beings other than ourselves is not to rob ourselves from absolute beauty and wisdom, but to disrespect them and rob them of the treatment and empathy they deserve. I often hike through nature myself and can no longer ignore just how amazing our world is, how motherly and intelligent nature truly is. It can be difficult to not get frustrated when others can’t see what I see.

I urge you to stop and find stillness every day. Don’t let the hustle and bustle of daily life distract you from just how awesome and powerful our Universe is. Look within yourself, recognize that we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves. Learn from the sense of community and responsibility for those in need that even the trees and the mushrooms have.

Identify and nourish your symbiotic relationships with others. Send love, recieve love. Send forgiveness, receive forgiveness.

REMEMBER!

You are a beautiful Living Being filled with light and love, born from stardust. You are unlimited potential in every direction. With a focus on discipline, virtue, and your own goodness, you can become as expanded and liberated as you desire.

Pray for others and the Universe prays for us.

I am here to help you awaken and bravely create an inspired life. Learn more about my services today and start changing your life in the most positive way.

If you find this process helpful, you might also check out The Shankara Oracle. 

Meet Paul Wagner

Paul Wagner (Shri Krishna Kalesh) is an intuitive mystic, clairvoyant reader, and a loving life & business coach. He created “THE PERSONALITY CARDS,” a powerful Oracle-Tarot deck that’s helpful in life, love, and relationships.

He created The Shankara Oracle, a profound divination tool that includes 18 gemstones, a lavishly designed divination board, and over 300 penetrative oracle cards – all to help you heal to your core and illuminate your Being.

Paul studied with Lakota elders in the Pecos Wilderness, who nurtured his empathic abilities and taught him the sacred rituals. He has lived at ashrams with enlightened masters, including Amma, the Hugging Saint, for whom he’s delivered keynotes at Her worldwide events.

Paul tours the world lecturing on spiritual liberation. He lovingly offers intuitive readings, inspirational coaching, and illuminating courses to help others with self-discovery, decision-making, healing, and forgiveness. Book a session with Paul: HERE


Share the Love!