Maybe We Should Just Let Trees Be Trees

'Guardian' explores the zeitgeisty principles of the 'wood-wide web' and the ensuing backlash
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 28, 2024 2:15 PM CDT
Have We Gone Overboard on Trees?
   (Getty / Corradorbarattaphotos)

There's a movie in the works based on the popular memoir Finding the Mother Tree by forest ecologist Suzanne Simard, with Amy Adams in line to play the title role. But as Daniel Immerwahr writes in the Guardian, "it is rare for academic ideas to reach the Amy Adams stage without drawing scholarly fire." And that fire has begun. Immerwahr's piece traces how Simard popularized the notion that trees communicate with each other in complex ways and help each other out in what has come to be known as the "wood-wide web"—starting with her seminal 1997 article in Nature and helped more recently by an extremely popular TED Talk of 2016. Author Richard Powers even has a fictionalized version of Simard in his tree-centric and Pulitzer-winning novel The Overstory. The question now is whether these claims have "outstripped the evidence," as the story puts it.

Earlier this year, Nature ran a piece chronicling the "groundswell of unease" among ecologists about "the way in which the ideas are being presented in popular forums." Immerwahr digs in to the particulars, which includes ticking off examples of some of the dazzling ways trees fend off dangers. "If trees do communicate underground, I like to think of them swearing like sailors while, rooted in place, they fend off waves of piratical attackers," he writes. The lighthearted line gets to the big question in the piece: whether trees are sentient and have something akin to consciousness. Immerwahr also wonders why we feel compelled to assign human characteristics to trees, instead of just letting them be, well, trees. "Might we be missing something important when we gaze into the wooden mirror and see only ourselves?" Read the full story. (Or other longform recaps.)

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