When it first came out in 2018, I read The Overstory by Richard Powell. Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard appears to contain the endless years of detailed research and life story behind one of the characters in Powell’s novel. In fact, in her Acknowledgements, Simard thanks Powell for helping to make her life’s research more accessible to the general populace.
Simard’s book is part memoir, part detailed scientific explanations of her research and how a forest works and lives, and part how difficult it is to be taken seriously in the science world if you are female and your research contradicts the norm. She grew up in Canada. Her family made a living cutting down trees. Her family and life was and is intricately interwoven with nature. Even as a child, she was obsessed with tree roots, crawled around on the forest floor to see what lived there. A specific fascination was all the types and colors of fungi that grew just under the surface. Why were they there? What purpose did they serve? Later this became her life’s work, leading her to discover how trees of varying species use these fungi to communicate with and nurture each other. Of special significance are the “mother trees”, older, larger trees who provide nurturance to all the younger trees around them, recognize their kin, favoring them as they nurture all the other trees as well.
Traditionally, loggers and timber companies clear cut, then replanted with seedlings of all the same species of evergreen. It took Simard decades of research to convince them that it was not only the poorest way to grow new trees but also the least economical. For decades they saw her as some nutty woman, laughed at her research, laughed at her, even using epithets to her face. Ultimately, however, her work led to changes in how forestry is practiced.
This book relates her long struggle to save the forests. For those who are science minded, the final pages of the book contain 32 pages of Critical Sources. If you are interest in learning more about “mother trees”, go to http://mothertreeproject.org. It defines the term “mother tree” and explains how trees communicate. It also contains videos.