Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Thought For Christmas: The Wood Wide Web

It's the time of year when many people think about the forthcoming Christmas and holiday season and one of the things that will feature in many houses over the coming weeks is a tree - a Christmas tree.

The tradition of Christmas trees goes back a long time. It's thought that the forerunner to the modern Christmas tree dates back to the 15th century.

Decorating the tree is also something of a tradition. In the 17th century people used apples and nuts for decoration and then in the 18th century people started to use candles for the effect of illumination.

Since the advent of electricity, of course, that has changed to a more practical and safe option of using electric lights.

The dark evenings over the Christmas period (especially up here in Scotland!) can be literally and figuratively brightened up by a colourful, Christmas tree when its lights are switched on.

Here in Stirling, we have cold winters, often with snow around Christmas and all the staff here love the tradition of Christmas trees. In fact, decorating our trees at home is a common topic of conversation during coffee breaks at this time of year! Whether to have a real or artificial tree, who prefers baubles to ribbons. Most of us love to add in something more familial like those lovely little things your children (or even you!) made at school. They may not have a 'designer' look but they will always make you smile :)

So we've established that electrical energy to power decorative lights is synonomous with Christmas trees but did you know that real trees actually generate their own form of electrical energy?

According to forester and author Peter Wohlleben, every species of tree is "genetically as far away from each other as you and a goldfish". As such each species has developed a way of communicating within it's 'tribe' by means of electrical signals which the trees' roots are able to generate. It's believed the type of information they can exchange in this way ranges from where to find nourishment in the soil to warnings of insect attacks.

Using electrical energy to warn of an attack - now there's a thought! Just as our Electro-Fence uses electricity to warn of a perimeter attack, it seems that nature, and in particular trees, got there first with the idea!

It's not just the trees that benefit from root-generated electrical signals; it appears that at the point where the web of roots cease, the information is carried forward and passed on by means of the surrounding fungal network. Scientists have now given a name to this complex network - The Wood Wide Web :)

If you love Christmas trees, take a look at some of the biggest ones in the world - here.

Enjoy a very Happy Christmas!