Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard

Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard

Author:Suzanne Simard [Simard, Suzanne]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Published: 2021-05-04T00:00:00+00:00

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In spite of my breakthroughs—that trees really are dependent on their connection to the soil and to one another—the thing I most wanted was to talk to, commune with, heal with Kelly. I remembered huckleberry picking once in our grandparents’ yard when we were little, when he was upset that a bug got into the pail with his two huckleberries. “Get ee out, Gumpa,” he’d begged, panicky. I daydreamed about him standing in Grannie’s garden, holding the biggest tomato. I pictured us fishing for minnows off the dock with rods we’d made from willow shoots. Slip-sliding over rolling logs on searing summer days in the cold waters of the Arrow Lakes. Canoeing across the North Thompson River to ride Mieko through the corn rows and cottonwoods.

The next spring, I made a garden.

Not any old garden, but one based on the discoveries I had been making when he died. One where the plants could share resources and lean on one another. Where they weren’t planted in rows, each isolated from the next, but mixed so they could communicate. Care for one another. I followed the “three-sisters” technique developed by the Native Americans, who grow corn, squash, and beans as companions to enhance the growth of them all.

I’d always made a row for each vegetable in my tiny patch of garden soil. But this year, I built mounds of rich earth spaced about a foot apart, molding each into a bowl as though I were a potter, to keep the water from trickling away, as Grannie Winnie had shown me. I planted a seed of each of the three sisters in every mound and watered them daily, and after a week, tiny cotyledons emerged from the black grains.

Garden plants usually associate with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, unlike the ectomycorrhizal fungi on most trees. There are only a couple hundred arbuscular mycorrhizal species worldwide, compared to the thousands of ectomycorrhizal species. These arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi are generalists, meaning that even the few species that exist in nature can colonize the roots and should link most of the garden vegetable plants. Like corn, squash, beans, peas, tomatoes, onions, carrots, eggplant, lettuce, garlic, potatoes, yams.

Within weeks of emergence, the roots of my plants were mycorrhizal, tied together. I pulled up a bean and saw tiny white nodules along its length, housing nitrogen-fixing bacteria. The beans were transforming the nitrogen and adding it to the mound of soil shared with the corn and squash. The corn returned the favor by providing a structure for the beans to climb. The squash served as mulch, keeping the soil moist and the weeds and bugs down.

I imagined how the mycorrhizal network played a part in this dance, my garden’s network shuttling nitrogen from the nitrogen-fixing beans to the corn and squash. And the tall, sunny corn transmitting carbon to the beans and squash it was shading. And the squash sending the water it had saved to the thirsty corn and beans.

My garden thrived.

I could feel forgiveness.

I started clearing trails through the forest surrounding our house.


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