Finding The Mother Tree

Finding The Mother Tree

By Suzanne Simard, Alfred A. Knopf, 2021

The title of this book intrigued me. I had read Suzanne Simard’s long article, The Social Life of Forests, in The New York Times late last year, in which she talks about the communication properties of trees and their protection of their young.

Suzanne Simard is now a Professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia. This memoir documents her journey from a daughter of loggers in the forests of British Columbia, to working with a logging company that clear-cut trees, to realizing that killing the fungi in the soil and around the trees made the trees’ regeneration impossible, to one of the world’s leading forestry researchers. She is rightly acclaimed as comparable to Rachel Carson in the way she conveys complicated scientific ideas in accessible prose.

Her prose, in fact, is poetic. In Chapter 1, she describes an afternoon in the forest: “Mist crept through the clusters of sub-alpine firs, coating them with a sheen. Light-refracting droplets held entire worlds.”

An entire world, in front of us, but scarcely recognized by most humans in our hurry to use it for our own advantage. But trees¬–all plants, in fact–are more like us than we like to think. They communicate, and they care for their young.

Simard’s takeaway message is this: “When Mother Trees —the majestic hubs at the center of forest communication, protection, and sentience —die, they pass their wisdom to their kin, generation after generation, sharing the knowledge of what helps and what harms, who is friend or foe, and how to adapt and survive in an ever-changing landscape. It’s what all parents do.”

We should take note.