The silent communication of trees

It is a popular legend that trees can communicate. Since childhood, we can see in cartoons, books or other video games, that trees are gifted with speech and that they can sometimes move. But between dream and reality, the line is sometimes very thin...


Lots of research have focused for several years on the ability of plant beings to communicate information crucial to their survival in a hostile environment or close to predators. However, can we really talk about communication when trees do not have organs and muscles to produce and emit sounds, gestures or even write?

Communication : the basics


According to the dictionary, communication is the action of communicating with another being, most of the time using a language, in order to transmit a message. Language, on the other hand, is the ability shared by humans to communicate and express their ideas using vocal and graphic signs (language, writing, signs, etc.).


Man is a social being who owes his survival to his ability to live in community and to communicate with his fellows. Let us then understand that without a visual or sound sign, shared by a large community of individuals, no communication and survival is possible.


Understanding this, can we really think that trees communicate? Since they can't make sounds or move to use gestures, how do they do it?


Trees, clever communicators

Some researchers have looked into the matter and have observed that trees, despite their silence, can transmit crucial information to each other, especially in the event of danger. But then, how do they do it? Do they transmit signals through the roots? Do they send messages to each other thanks to the animals that travel in their branches? Perhaps they wait for the wind to blow in order to communicate through the sound of the leaves?

Every being would be predisposed to communicate. But this is not communication as we human beings understand it. We are talking here about pheromones, DNA, genes, cells and other physical elements that we all possess.


With the help of smells, living beings recognize each other, seduce each other or warn each other of danger. According to some research, humans choose their partners by the smell of their sweat. We also observe in nature that many mammals communicate using smells, in particular to warn their congeners that they are suitable for reproduction or to mark their territories.


Trees, on the other hand, transmit information by means of gas to warn their congeners of a pest attack. They also communicate using their root by sending chemical and electrical messages to each other. These sylvan beings use clever means while they possess no nervous system or brain as we understand it. It alerts us to the fact that nature is full of mysteries and that it must be protected because we still have a lot to learn from it.

How tree communication works



Imagine a little caterpillar crunching with full appetite in the leaves of an oak tree. This seems to be a harmless scene, without danger or repercussions for the caterpillar.

But it turns out that by feasting on the taste of the oak's chlorophyll, the latter receives a signal that it is under attack and sends odors to the caterpillar's predators in response to the attack. These smells, picked up by the predators of our caterpillar friend, will attract them to the tree and begin to defend it from this crawling creature and its congeners.


Thus, with the help of smells, the threat is averted, the tree retains its leaves, the predators feast and the caterpillar is eradicated after one last bite of its feast.


This amazing method is only one known among many others and designated by researchers. We will talk about these African acacias, which when an antelope begins to feast on their leaves, diffuse in them a chemical substance which repels it and spreads a gas which warns its fellow trees of the threat. The antelope then finds itself forced to travel several kilometers to find an edible tree.

But chemical messages and odors aren't the only ways trees have to send messages to each other. Other "invisible" means also exist and it is underground that this happens.


Researchers have observed that trees communicate using their roots and fungi. A long network of membranes, filaments and roots would intertwine underground and allow the plants of the forest to transmit messages. Thus, trees know when one of their fellow creatures is in danger or needs water or nutrients. The information transmitted from one tree to another would go at the speed of one centimeter per second! Faster than fiber in Auvergne! (Sorry to our Auvergne friends for this joke... ;*D)


Tree communication, a recent discovery?

Who could have imagined that the trees, immobile beings, subject to bad weather and the vagaries of the weather, would in fact be real gossips? How to imagine that they were in fact able to transmit so much information and this, since their existence on Earth? And above all, how is it that researchers have only been looking at the question for two or three decades?

Like what, we still know too little about the world around us. This is one more reason to support our movement and continue to expand the branches of our knowledge... Stay tuned for future sylvan articles and do not hesitate to support our actions by subscribing or making a donation to support our project.

In the meantime, see you soon for a next article, I'm going to communicate with my trees! Maybe if you try on your side, the trees will transcribe our conversation?

Article written by Claire Moreau, editor for Run for Planet.

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