Finding the Mother Tree Book Summary - Finding the Mother Tree Book explained in key points
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Finding the Mother Tree summary

Suzanne Simard

Discovering How the Forest Is Wired for Intelligence and Healing

4.5 (203 ratings)
36 mins
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    Finding the Mother Tree
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    Murder Mystery

    Tendrils of fog curled around the limbs and trunks of the trees. The needles of the firs, coated by damp mist, shone in the midafternoon light. Suzanne ran her fingers along their branches, feeling the feathery softness of the needles. 

    Her destination was a clear-cut –⁠ a 30-hectare section of completely felled trees. This particular clear-cut belonged to the logging company she’d started working for a few weeks back. New seedlings had been planted there, and it was Suzanne’s job to assess their growth.

    Along the way, she spotted a Suillus mushroom, with its flat brown cap resembling a big pancake. She plucked one out of the ground and saw tiny yellow threads –⁠ mycelium –⁠ stretching from the stem down into the soil. The mushroom was merely the fruit of the fungus –⁠ the small, visible part of an organism that, underground, was vast and elaborate.

    As Suzanne continued toward the clear-cut, her boot suddenly slipped. In an attempt to keep her balance, she instinctively grabbed a nearby sapling, ripping it out of the ground as she fell down the slope. When she finally came to a rest, she was still holding onto the young tree.

    Its roots, she noticed, were coated in humus –⁠ but there was something else. The tips of the roots were glowing bright yellow, just like the Suillus mushroom she’d picked up. Curious, she began to dig into the forest floor. Every part of the soil, it seemed, was webbed with that same yellow mycelium, along with mycelium of other colors. What was their purpose? 

    Eventually, Suzanne reached the clear-cut. The dead remains of the trees, white and weathered, jutted out of the soil like bones, while the new seedlings sprouted in neat, even rows to maximize the timber yield.

    Well, that was the theory, anyway. But these seedlings seemed barely alive. Pulling an especially sad-looking one from the ground, she examined its roots: coarse and black, with no white tips. The planting job was perfect, yet something was wrong. The roots were failing to connect with the soil.

    Nearby, she spotted a healthy fir tree that had, by chance, sprouted from a random seed. This tree was firmly rooted in the soil, and when she examined the root tips, she was amazed. Dripping from them were bright yellow fungal threads, the same color as the Suillus mycelium.

    Something seemed significant about this discovery. What exactly were these mycelium doing? Were they helping or harming the seedlings – or neither?

    A laundry list of possibilities ran through Suzanne’s head as she wrote down her analysis of the plantation: it was a failure. But what should the logging company do about it? Replant all the seedlings using the same methods? That would be the cheapest option, unless the seedlings all died again. A new solution was needed –⁠ but what?

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    What is Finding the Mother Tree about?

    Finding the Mother Tree (2021) is a vivid blend of science and memoir that describes the breathtaking personal and professional journey of renowned ecologist Suzanne Simard. It unearths the strange and surprising secrets buried deep in the forests of British Columbia –⁠ and, in the process, forever alters our understanding of the natural world. 

    Who should read Finding the Mother Tree?

    • Lovers of the natural world
    • Fans of memoir and biography
    • Anyone yearning to escape the city for the wilderness

    About the Author

    Suzanne Simard is a forest ecologist and professor at the University of British Columbia. She has made major contributions to research on the cooperative nature of forest ecosystems and the existence of “mother,” or hub, trees. Her discoveries and life story have served as the inspiration for numerous works of fiction, including Richard Powers’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Overstory, and James Cameron’s award-winning film Avatar.

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