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The Idea That Trees Talk to Cooperate Is Misleading

Scientific American

It’s a romantic notion, but pretending they’re like humans could actually harm the cause of conservation

By Kathryn Flinn
Trees that communicate, care for one another and foster cooperative communities have captured the popular imagination, most notably in Suzanne Simard’s much-praised book Finding the Mother Tree, soon to be a movie, and in other works like James Cameron’s Avatar, Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees and Richard Powers’ Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Overstory.

But many scientists like myself believe these depictions misrepresent ecosystems and harm the cause of conservation.

Do trees really talk? Sure. Plants emit hormones and defense signals. Other plants detect these signals and alter their physiology accordingly. But not all the talk is kind; plants also produce allelochemicals, which poison their neighbors.

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