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Inspired by nature: Talk like a tree!

Posted: 25th October 2021

The Green Team are an Edinburgh based charity that connect people to nature. Through this short article they share some of the secrets of trees, exploring what we can learn from them and how they can remind us of the need for good communication across both business and personal life.

Talk like a tree

Trees are beautiful and their company makes us happy. ‘Forest bathing’ is the newest lifestyle trend urging us to spend more time among trees, something that tree-climbing children know intuitively. We are drawn to trees with sweeping branches and magnificent crowns, but the real magic of trees is hidden in the ground below our feet.

Through an underground network, trees communicate with each other. Trees talk! Research exploring how trees exchange information is revolutionising our perspective on forest ecology. But could trees also inspire how we talk to each other?

Among trees

A tree’s root systems can grow up to 4 times the diameter of its crown, intertwining with the roots of its neighbours. At the tips of its roots, fungi thrive which are nourished by the sugar the tree produces through photosynthesis. In this symbiotic relationship, the fungus reciprocates by spreading its thread-like mycelium through the soil and procuring water and essential nutrients for the tree.

But these ‘mycorrhizal fungi networks’ are not only vital for an individual tree’s survival. They are also a medium through which trees communicate and share resources with each other. Research has shown that there is an ongoing exchange of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous or deuterated water between trees. Through such exchange, trees influence each other’s growth and behaviour, even across species [1] .

Douglas Fir and Paper Birch, for example, two species that often grow in close proximity, support each other throughout their different annual growth cycles. In summer, when smaller fir trees become shaded, they receive carbon from the birch. In autumn, when the birch starts to lose its leaves and its ability to photosynthesize, the evergreen fir reciprocates and supports the birch with excess carbon [2].

Not all plant species are that supportive. Certain orchid species are known to hack into the mycorrhizal networks to nick nutrients exchanged between trees. Other trees, like the black walnut, transmit a substance through the root networks to stunt the growth of trees in its vicinity [3].

Such hackers and trolls aside, forests are huge cooperative systems. Trees not only support each other by exchanging vital resources, they also share important information. Through their roots, trees can warn each other of environmental dangers. A tree attacked by insects, for example, produces defence substances. Like chemical signals, these race through the root network and warn its neighbours, giving them a head-start in raising their defences.

Networks between trees are vaster than we initially thought. Fungi connecting tree roots can spread over several square miles and thereby linking trees of a forest into a massive network with a constant exchange of information, not unlike our internet. Ecologists recently produced a global map of this ‘wood wide web’ which includes connections between 28,000 tree species in more than 70 countries [4].

We have yet to discover all the secrets to tree communication and its significance for healthy forests. But could these supportive, yet largely invisible exchanges between trees also inspire us in how we talk to each other?

We have seen that trees talk in a caring way – to provide warnings and to protect each other. Perhaps, in our daily lives we could communicate with more kindness: a simple smile and a ‘good morning’ to a stranger or making that extra effort to check in on friends, family and colleagues.

Perhaps, like the fir and birch, we can benefit from working as a team. This might be taking time to understand what a colleague needs and being there to support them or learning to take advantage of the strengths of a partner for mutual benefit. Trees teach us the importance of collaboration.

Or maybe the trees that are all around us can act as a gentle reminder, inspired by the black walnut, of the negative impact a harsh word can have – inspiring us to think twice before we speak. Next time you see a tree, have a think about what message it is trying to tell you…


The Green Team’s work focuses on providing opportunities for young people to get involved in nature for positive environmental action, personal development and fun. However, they also provide opportunities for local businesses/organisations to get involved with environmental teambuilding days or employee wellbeing sessions. These days provide an opportunity for teams to use an outdoor setting to reconnect and recover after all that the last couple of years has thrown at us. All proceeds from these activities go towards supporting local young people.  

For more information please visit: or contact Jamie at

Text and Images: Anna Pultar








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