100 Trees Planted in Earth’s Underground Internet

Posted November 9, 2018

Can you imagine what trees would say to one another if they could speak? Trees do talk to one another, but not with a spoken voice like humans. Just underneath our feet lie intricate lines of tree root communication. Trees have symbiotic relationships with mycorrhizal fungi living on their roots that act like a kind of earth-internet to let trees talk to each other.

Matt and Mara work together to plant a hackberry tree. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

At Cowan Lake State Park, an entire colony of ash trees died from the invasive emerald ash borer. So, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden Family Community Service program partnered with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) to plant a new species of trees that will hopefully start a new conversation underground.

Many hands came together to plant 100 hackberry trees at Cowan Lake!

Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis, Ulmacea) trees are Ohio natives and are tough enough to survive in the high-traffic camping area where they were planted. Hackberry is a pioneer tree species, meaning that they are a hardy species which are the first to colonize previously biodiverse ecosystems. They’re a perfect fit for the land that recently lost an entire community of trees.

Related to the elm family, hackberry trees produce small, sweet fruits that feed birds, small mammals, and humans. The berries can be made into jellies, wine, and other foods for us to enjoy. And, the trees are used as caterpillar host plants by several butterfly species, including the Hackberry Emperor, Tawny Emperor, Question Mark, American Snout, and Mourning Cloak.

Hackberry tree. (Photo: ODNR)

Not only do they provide food to many, they offer shade to passersby. Living for over 100 years, they can reach heights of 60 feet. And, their root systems are fast-growing and hardy, which sets up strong communication lines within the soil.

The next time you take a walk in the forest or go camping, look around and see if you can identify some different species of trees; maybe you’ll see some hackberry trees. And if you listen very, very closely you might be able to hear what they’re saying!

76 volunteers came together to plant trees! (Photo: ODNR)

“A forest is much more than what you see.” -Suzanne Simard, Forest Ecologist

 Interested in joining the Cincinnati Zoo Family Community Service program? Click here!