Mother Trees: Our Green Guardians, Deserving of Protection

Mother Trees: Our Green Guardians, Deserving of Protection

One of the most captivating revelations in recent times revolves around the profound communication among trees. These mystical life-forms, which emerged between 350 and 420 million years ago[1], have withstood the challenges of numerous mass extinctions and contributed to the creation of a nurturing habitat that sustains various life forms, including us humans. Their enduring resilience has not only allowed survival but also fostered thriving ecosystems on our cherished planet.

While animals often evoke a sense of connection due to shared emotions, trees, unfortunately, are occasionally overlooked, perceived more as commodities than as awe-inspiring forms of life deserving admiration and respect. For many, trees embody ancient ancestors, benevolently overseeing our existence and requiring little in return. To humanize these remarkable entities, let's delve into the scientific revelations that unveil the fascinating world of trees.

Underground Chatter: Mycorrhizal Networks

Did you know that trees can communicate with each other? No, not through the rustling of leaves or the intertwining of roots underground. Two decades ago, Canadian ecologist Suzanne Simard discovered that trees convey their needs to each other through a network of underground fungi called the Mycorrhizal Network[2]. This underground fungi network, sometimes colloquially referred to as the wood wide web, senses the surroundings for plant nutrients like phosphorus, nitrogen, etc., and exchanges them with the plants for photosynthate (sugar produced during photosynthesis)[8]. The trees engage in a symbiotic relationship with the fungi, exchanging carbon for essential nutrients. This network enables a level of cooperation and mutual support that is essential for the survival of the entire forest community.

Nature's Friendship Lesson: Douglas Fir and Paper Birch

In a laboratory experiment studying nutrient exchange between Douglas Fir and Paper Birch trees, which often grow in close proximity, these trees, while competing for resources, cooperate by exchanging nutrients based on each other’s needs. An experiment examining the effects of shade on nutrient transfer revealed that during summer, the shaded Douglas Fir sent excess carbon to the Paper Birch tree. In the fall (autumn), when the Birch was shedding leaves and had excess carbon, it reciprocated by sending it over to the Douglas Fir trees. [2] This paradigm of mutualistic behavior transcends the boundaries of the forest, offering humanity a compelling lesson in cooperation and coexistence.

Meet the Mother Trees: Forest's Caretakers

The biggest and oldest trees usually have the most extensive connections, forming a wider mycorrhizal network that reaches a vast number of trees. These venerable giants act as hubs in mycorrhizal networks, demonstrating a profound ability to identify and prioritize their kin. Dr. Simard's ongoing research, conducted under the Mother Tree Project [3], delves into the behaviours of these arboreal matriarchs. Mother Trees can identify their kin (seedlings from their family) and prioritize sending nutrients to them over other neighboring trees[9]. Mother Trees nurture their own kind, taking care of them when injured or in need of additional nutrients. At the same time, all seedlings connecting to the Mother Tree’s network benefit from the vast nutrient resource it provides. Mother Trees with their vast networks play a crucial role as caretakers, nurturing their own kind and fostering the well-being of the entire forest ecosystem.

Furthermore, the massive size and age of mother trees contribute significantly to carbon sequestration, playing a vital role in mitigating climate change. Older trees store vast amounts of carbon in their biomass, helping to offset the impact of rising carbon dioxide levels. Protecting and preserving mother trees is, therefore, crucial in the global effort to combat climate change and maintain the delicate balance of our planet's ecosystems.

Tulasi Gowda: A Living Testament to Stewardship

Beyond academic research, the tangible impact of understanding and preserving Mother Trees finds expression in individuals like Tulasi Gowda from the Halakki tribe in Karnataka, India. Known as the "Encyclopedia of the Forest" and the "Tree Goddess" by members of her tribe [4] for her deep knowledge and connection to the forest, she has dedicated her life towards transforming large swaths of barren land into lush green forests.

Over the years, she has developed an innate ability to identify indigenous species and locate the Mother Trees of each species no matter their location in the forest. At a very young age, she began helping her mother as a day labourer in the Karnataka Forestry Department, taking care of seeds and working on conservation and afforestation projects. She saw extraordinary success in nurturing these seedlings into full bloom. From her mother, she learned that regeneration works best when seeds from big, healthy trees are chosen. These big, healthy trees turned out to be the Mother Trees of the species, and over time she developed an intuition towards recognizing them. She is skilled at identifying when Mother Trees will bloom and germinate and what the best moment to collect their seeds is.[5]

Though she can’t articulate exactly how she does this, it is clear to everyone around her that she speaks the language of the forest and is deeply connected to the forest in ways that most of us could only dream of. Many who’ve seen her work describe it as an incredible experience. Her love for trees is evident through the sparkle in her eyes when she talks about rare seeds, afforestation projects, and how it is important to plant trees and take care of them. People can often hear her conversing with trees, and when she dies, she says that she would like to be reborn as a big tree.

Over the years, she has received a number of accolades for her conservation efforts, namely, the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award and the Indira Priyadarshini Vrikshamitra Award, to name a few. In 2020, she was conferred with the Padma Shri award, one of India’s highest civilian honours. [7]

Deforestation and Conservation

In the last couple of decades, the breakneck pace of development has led to wide-scale deforestation across the globe. The consequences, ranging from climate change to the emergence of new diseases, are becoming increasingly evident. Notably, India's plans to fell 2.3 million trees [6] for large-scale infrastructure projects in the last three years underscore the urgency of addressing the impact of human activities on our environment.

Considering the historical resilience of trees, it is incumbent upon us to recognize their significance in sustaining life on Earth. The insights gained from the study of Mother Trees and mycorrhizal networks underscore their importance in conservation efforts and the significance of their continued existence. As stewards of our environment, we must consider the long-term consequences of development projects that necessitate deforestation. Mother Trees, as guardians of the forest, possess wisdom crucial for the survival of future generations.

Conclusion: Embracing the Lessons of Mother Trees

In conclusion, the revelations surrounding Mother Trees and mycorrhizal networks provide a glimpse into the intelligent and complex functioning of forest ecosystems. While the depth of their consciousness remains beyond our current comprehension, the cooperative synergy displayed by these entities serves as a beacon for human collaboration and environmental stewardship. As Charles Darwin aptly stated, "In the long history of humankind, those who learned to collaborate most effectively have prevailed." Mother Trees emerge as the key to our conservation endeavours, deserving of preservation and recognition for the invaluable role they play in maintaining the delicate balance of our planet. The question remains—will we rise to the occasion and embrace our responsibility to protect these ancient guardians?


[1] history%2C plants developed time,reach up to 50 m.





[6] will cut down 2.3,triggered widespread condemnation from environmentalists.




Back to blog