Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest

by Suzanne Simard

Hardcover, 2021

Call number

333.75 SIM

Collection

Publication

Knopf (2021), 368 pages

Description

Suzanne Simard is a pioneer on the frontier of plant communication and intelligence; her TED talks have been viewed by more than 10 million people worldwide. In this, her first book, now available in paperback, Simard brings us into her world, the intimate world of the trees, in which she brilliantly illuminates the fascinating and vital truths?that trees are not simply the source of timber or pulp, but are a complicated, interdependent circle of life; that forests are social, cooperative creatures connected through underground networks by which trees communicate their vitality and vulnerabilities with communal lives not that different from our own. Simard writes?in inspiring, illuminating, and accessible ways?how trees, living side by side for hundreds of years, have evolved, how they learn and adapt their behaviors, recognize neighbors, compete and cooperate with one another with sophistication, characteristics ascribed to human intelligence, traits that are the essence of civil societies?and at the center of it all, the Mother Trees: the mysterious, powerful forces that connect and sustain the others that surround them. And Simard writes of her own life, born and raised into a logging world in the rainforests of British Columbia, of her days as a child spent cataloging the trees from the forest and how she came to love and respect them. And as she writes of her scientific quest, she writes of her own journey, making us understand how deeply human scientific inquiry exists beyond data and technology, that it is about understanding who we are and our place in the world.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member LynnB
This is partly a science book. It tells about the author's research into the ways trees are connected to, communicate with, and care for each other. That alone is fascinating. The science is presented in a very accessible way.

It is also partly a biography, telling the story of the author's life and
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her life-long interest in forests. She comes from a family of loggers and wants to ensure the industry remains sustainable. Her research puts her at odds with many colleagues, but she perseveres even through personal challenges. This was my favourite aspect of the book.
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LibraryThing member BobVTReader
This book is one of a series of science books that have been written in the past several years that have been written by women. Again we see the challenges faced by women to be recognized by their fellow scientists. The topic of her research is ecology, specifically the ecology of the Pacific Coast
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Forest. As A post Doc I collaborated with a scientist who worked with the Pacific Coast Forestry Service so I have a particular interest in this book and the subject matter. I was somewhat disappoint in that I though that there was not enough science in the book; however, I was not the target audience. Definitely a book that everyone should read.
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LibraryThing member paradoxosalpha
This volume should stand as the magnum opus text of forest ecologist Suzanne Simard. It's hard to estimate the relative proportions of narrative memoir and silvicultural science here, in part because one of Simard's themes is to challenge mechanistic-exploitative science divorced from narratives
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recognizing the agency of trees and forests.

The book's most obvious theme is cooperation as a paradigm for forest growth and health. Simard communicates this idea very effectively. Despite her decades of efforts to get this perspective to inform policy and industrial practices, she still struggles for it to have traction in forestry management. She has been more successful among academics and the general public. It's clear that there are actual elements of competition in natural ecology, but the conceptual exclusion of cooperative mechanisms is a debilitating fault that Simard's work has consistently sought to address. (She doesn't much bother to explain, but it is hideously obvious, that this feature in her field is derived from industrial capitalism and entrenched in neoliberal outlooks that create analogous damage on many other levels as well.)

On the philosophical level--again, inextricable from the memoirist content--I was reminded of Haraway's Staying with the Trouble, although the emphasis here on unrecognized complexity and interdependence strikes me as more sophisticated than Haraway's slogan of "Make kin, not babies." Simard's trees seem to understand that they need to make kin (in Haraway's sense) in order for their babies to thrive, and to make babies in order to perpetuate their constructive relationships with their kin.

The key (but far from only) scientific takeaway of the common mycorrhizal network as the material stratum of a forest's collective intelligence is pretty thrilling. In other venues, she has referred to this collaborative vegetable-fungal matrix as an "underworld." It is easy for me to imagine cultural evolution of local humans to appreciate this reality without the benefit of the sort of alienating experimental science that Simard has needed to use in validating and justifying her hypotheses. She claims that First Nations lore tallies with her discoveries.

After reading the book, I watched one of Simard's successful TED Talks on YouTube, where I saw her rehearse some of the powerful anecdotes included in this book. She's an adequate public speaker, although she confides in writing that she finds it an unpleasant ordeal. What holds the attention is the awareness she has to impart, and for me, the book medium was more effective. Not only did it supply a fuller explanation of the scientific ideas, but it also put her personal stories into the context of a life arc of professional challenges, intimate relationships, personal survival, and family affections.
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LibraryThing member MusicalGlass
Simard’s research in forestry reveals that trees communicate and coordinate resources and defenses. The autobiographical elements that she includes here show how humans have insinuated themselves into natural processes. Turns out that we need the forest much more than it needs us.
LibraryThing member lauralkeet
In [Finding the Mother Tree], Suzanne Simard describes her lifetime of research in the forests of British Columbia, which led to discoveries about how trees communicate, collaborate, and care for one another. Our forests are under threat, and the reduction in forested land has contributed to
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climate change. Simard began her career in the 1980s as one of very few women working in forestry. This book effectively combines scientific research with autobiographical detail, as we see Simard struggle for her work to be recognized and considered credible. Even if I did get lost in some of the scientific terms from time to time, I found both the science and the autobiography quite interesting. Simard has made an important contribution that, fortunately, others are now beginning to recognize and build upon.
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LibraryThing member Katyefk
I learned a lot about the connectiveness of the trees in the forest. This has now been scientifically proven. When I was walking in our forest last week, I looked around to try to recognize the Mother Tree. I think I actually did spot the right one. Suzanne is an amazing scientist, who takes her
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passionate energy and follows it through to important conclusions as well as other questions for others to answer in the future. I feel a great respect and love for trees and our forests.
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LibraryThing member Gwendydd
This book is part memoir, part science. Simard tells the story of her life, career, and discoveries, starting with her work as a young woman in the logging industry where she first started to suspect that trees needed to be in communities of trees to survive, up to her current day research where
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she is discovering some truly fascinating things about how trees deliberately nurture each other. Meanwhile, she also talks about how her research fit into her family life, including the untimely death of her brother, her marriage and divorce, and her struggle with breast cancer.

As a reader, I really enjoy books about science, but I am not a fan of memoirs, so I found this book to be pretty frustrating. I did find it interesting how the events of Simard's life inspired her research and vice versa, but ultimately I picked up this book because I wanted to learn about trees and forests, not because I wanted to learn about her. I wanted to skim the memoir parts, but she tends to have long sections where she's ruminating about her life and her science together, so skipping the memoir wasn't really an option.

Having said all of that, the research she is going about trees is utterly fascinating. She has discovered that trees not only communicate with each other through mycorrhizal networks, they also share nutrients and can respond to events and stressors surprisingly quickly. Trees can recognize their own kin, and provide more nutrients to their relatives than to other neighbors. This information, and how she discovered it, is fascinating and worth the effort of slogging through the memoir.
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LibraryThing member jennybeast
This book surprised me — I was delighted to discover that this is the book that talks through the decades of research and science that are referenced in The Hidden Life of Trees. It almost felt like I should have read this one first, but since this one is more of a deep dive, the order worked for
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me.

I also wasn’t really expecting it to be as autobiographical as it is, but that delighted me as well — I think the frame and context of Simard’s life adds a lot to Simard’s work — as of course it must, and the moments in the wild forest that she shares are deeply evocative.

Why isn’t the whole world talking about this research? Why aren’t the debates over saving ancient trees over? I hope that more will learn and more will change, so that both our beautiful planet and our rapacious species survives.
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LibraryThing member RajivC
Overall, I like the book. It is well written, and it is easy to follow the narrative.

I applaud Suzanne Simard for conducting her research despite stiff opposition. However, it's important to read till the end. This is when you realize she has rediscovered ancient wisdom but not discovered the
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mycorrhizal networks. However, she put them into a Western scientific context, and this is invaluable

The book itself flows between personal and scientific stories, and it is crucial to realize she presents both stories from her perspective.

It was good to understand where the term "Wood-Wide Web" came from!
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LibraryThing member Treebeard_404
Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I didn't find this book as satisfying as I had hoped. Through other popular science texts, I had already become familiar with most of Dr. Simard's groundbreaking and important findings. (What this book does deliver well are detailed descriptions of many of
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the experiments she conducted to reach them.) Much of the biographical material was handled unevenly, in my opinion. If it's the botanical and ecological science you want, perhaps some other books might serve you better.
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Awards

BC and Yukon Book Prizes (Shortlist — Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize — 2022)
Jan Michalski Prize for Literature (Second Selection — 2023)
Globe and Mail Top 100 Book (Nonfiction — 2021)

ISBN

052565609X / 9780525656098
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