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The secret language of trees - Camille Defrenne and Suzanne Simard

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Most of the forest lives in the shadow of the giants that make up the highest canopy. These are the oldest trees, with hundreds of children and grandchildren. They check in with their neighbors, share food, supplies and wisdom gained over their lives, all while rooted in place. How do they do this? Camille Defrenne and Suzanne Simard explore the vast root system and intricate communication of trees.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Suzanne Simmard, Camille Defrenne
  • Director Avi Ofer
  • Narrator Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Animator Avi Ofer
  • Illustrator Avi Ofer
  • Sound Designer Cem Misirlioglu
  • Composer Cem Misirlioglu
  • Music Cem Misirlioglu
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Fact-checker Eden Girma
  • See more
Additional Resources for you to Explore

In the soil beneath your feet, a diverse array of microbes is at work around, on and in tree roots. This microscopic world includes intimate partnerships, or symbiosis, between tree fine roots and soil fungi called mycorrhizae. Mycorrhizal fungi partner with the root, creating exchange sites where the tree can trade energy it gets from photosynthesis with resources acquired from the soil by fungi. The mycorrhizal fungi collect these resources with branching mats of thread-like material called mycelium. This extensive mycelium can also connect the roots of different trees forming mycorrhizal networks. These networks are considered ecologically and evolutionarily important because they influence the survival, growth, physiology, health, competitive ability and behaviour of the plants and fungi linked in them. How do we know that? Watch Prof. Suzanne Simard’s TEDSummit talk, TEDxSeattle talk, or TED-Youth NewOrleans talk to learn about her groundbreaking scientific discoveries that she has been making in the Canadian Wilderness since the 1990s. Also watch for her upcoming book, Finding the Mother Tree, to be published in 2020 by Penguin Random House. You can further Watch BBC news to know how some plants use mycorrhizal networks to support their offspring while others hijack it to sabotage their rivals. Does it remind you of a sort of intelligence? You may think “how can you be intelligent without a brain?” Well, let’s dive underground while watching the award-winning film “Intelligent Trees” or listening to the podcast “From Tree to Shining Tree” of the Radiolab. If you want to know how are humans impacting mycorrhizae, and how can we conserve these important symbioses, learn about The Mother Tree Project and send an email to our website. Do you want to know how conserving mycorrhizal fungi could help Canada’s vast boreal and tundra ecosystems to thrive as our climate warms? Check out the work of Dr. Brian Pickles and Dr. Jason Pither. You can also learn from First-Nation’s wisdom who have deep connections with forests. Watch Dr. Teresa Ryan’s TEDx talk where she tells us about her ancestral legacy of nature’s connections or during your trip to Canada, go take a look at Tania Willard’s artwork, exhibited in the busiest SkyTrain station of the city of Vancouver. If you want to know more about current researches on roots and mycorrhizal fungi in British Columbia, watch the video of Camille Defrenne and Julia Amerongen Maddison or browse through the Simard’s lab website!

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Suzanne Simmard, Camille Defrenne
  • Director Avi Ofer
  • Narrator Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Animator Avi Ofer
  • Illustrator Avi Ofer
  • Sound Designer Cem Misirlioglu
  • Composer Cem Misirlioglu
  • Music Cem Misirlioglu
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Fact-checker Eden Girma
  • See more