The Wood Wide Web

HolisticNaturopathyBy Heidi Merika BHSc.Nat

A common philosophy in naturopathy is the concept of ‘wholism’ or ‘holistic’ healing, which we use to explain the interconnectedness of the human body and its relationship to it everything that influences it. We acknowledge that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and that everything that happens in one part will have influences felt elsewhere.

So as a naturopath with a particular interest in wild-crafting and nature communication I was delighted to find this information on the communication network used by plants that demonstrates this holism in nature.

Biologists have started using the term “wood wide web” to describe this communication system used between fungi, plants and other organisms.

In a 2008 TED talk called “6 ways mushrooms can save the world” fungus expert Paul Stamets called this natural communication network “Earth’s natural internet”. Stamets noticed similarities between mycelia and ARPANET, the US Department of Defense’s early version of the Internet.

Most of the plants you can see are connected below ground by mycelial connections. Mycelium is a mass of thin threads that act as a kind of underground Internet linking the roots of different plants. Mycorrhizae not only connect plants that are nearby but also connect plants that may be far apart from each other.

In 1997, Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver found one of the first pieces of evidence. She showed that Douglas fir and paper birch trees could transfer carbon between them via mycelia.

Others have since shown that plants can exchange nitrogen and phosphorus as well, by the same route.

Simard now believes large trees help out small, younger ones using the fungal Internet. Without this help, she thinks many seedlings wouldn’t survive.

In a 1997 study, she demonstrated how seedlings in the shade with access to less food got more carbon from donor trees.

“These plants are not really individuals in the sense that Darwin thought they were individuals competing for survival of the fittest,” says Simard in the 2011 documentary Do Trees communicate “In fact they are interacting with each other, trying to help each other survive.”

Via mycorrhizal relationships, plants are able to provide fungi with food in the form of carbohydrates and in exchange, the fungi suck up water and provide nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, via their mycelia to help the plants. This improves their overall health, nutrition and wellbeing.

By linking to the fungal network plants are not only able to share nutrients but also share information about the environment and defend each other by spreading toxic chemicals to ward off unwelcome plants or pests.

It also enhances a plants immune system via a process known as ‘priming’. When a fungus colonises the roots of a plant, it causes the release of chemicals used to defend the plant. Like the human immune system the release of these chemicals make subsequent immune system responses quicker and more efficient, making the plant more resistant to disease.

Approximately 90% of land plants are connected to mycelial networks that provide multiple advantages to their long-term survival.

The fungal Internet exemplifies one of the great lessons of ecology: all organisms are connected and depend on each other for survival.

The wood wide web seems to be a beautiful example of how these connections work and how beneficial these interconnections are for all who share them.

Heidi Merika BHSc.Nat
Naturopath at Noosa Holistic Health