Do trees really talk to each other?

There's a good, long piece in this issue of Smithsonian about the scientific debate over whether trees talk to one another.

Trees certainly communicate. In forests, they're connected to each other through underground fungal networks (sometimes jokingly referred to as the "wood wide web"), and they'll send carbon back and forth as needed, as ecologist Suzanne Simard explained in her wildly viral TED Talk on tree-to-tree networks.

But while scientists agree that trees pick up on each other's signals, there's a question of intent. Are the trees intentionally trying to send messages to other trees? Or are they just broadcasting messages ambiently -- in the matter of course of, y'know, being trees -- that other trees just happen to pick up? Are some tree scientists overly anthropomorphizing trees, with talk of tree "mothers" that warn their child-trees of danger, or younger trees that actively try to keep alive elder, progenitor trees?

It's a damn cool area of science, either way. Here's a taste of the Smithsonian piece, which is really worth reading in full:

Once, he came across a gigantic beech stump in this forest, four or five feet across. The tree was felled 400 or 500 years ago, but scraping away the surface with his penknife, Wohlleben found something astonishing: the stump was still green with chlorophyll. There was only one explanation. The surrounding beeches were keeping it alive, by pumping sugar to it through the network. “When beeches do this, they remind me of elephants,” he says.

Read the rest