In Suzanne Simard’s 1980s field experiments, she found that trees communicate, sending chemical warning signals to one another and passing sugar, water, carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus between species. Wild forests operate, Simard wrote, as “an intelligent system, perceptive and responsive.”

The wood wide web has been a powerhouse metaphor for popularizing the mutualistic relationships of healthy forests.

Mother Trees

The eldest trees — having survived storms, droughts, ravenous insects, and the damage wrought by capitalism and colonialism — serve as the central hubs of the wood wide web. They are the strongest, the most resource-rich, with taproots stretching far beneath the earth. Suzanne Simard calls these elders “Mother Trees,” as do many indigenous people.

Mother Trees serve as hubs in a decentralized network. A single Mother can be connected to hundreds of other trees, but in a healthy forest, multiple Mother Trees with overlapping connections ensure that a single elder isn’t responsible for the continuity of the forest as a collective organism.

To build resilient decentralized networks, let us create “Mother nodes” — sites in the network bearing a responsibility of care. We’ve built institutions like these before: consider public libraries, which serve both as bearers of cultural memory and as generous sources of nutrients for our minds and communities