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  • Writer's pictureJenna Granger

Talking Trees & Plant Your Own Sugar Pine

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

An exploration of the communication between trees and plants & an opportunity to add to the conversation by planting your own sugar pine tree.

Grade Level:



Life Science

Matter & Energy Flow in Organisms

Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning & Resilience

Inheritance & Variation Traits

Social Interaction & Group Behavior

Creativity & Art

Tools & Materials

  • Art supplies: paper, pens, markers, colored pencils and/or crayons

  • Science Notebook or Nature Journal (or paper & hard surface)

  • For Tree Planting:


-Seedling(s): available at tree pick-up locations throughout Tahoe-Truckee region

..see below for details.

  • Water

To Do & Notice

1. Question:

Do trees communicate to each other? Do trees share resources? How? Why?

2. Make a Claim:

  • If you were a tree why would you communicate and share with other trees and plants? What would you share with other trees? Would you try to steal their resources or would you share with others in need?

3. Build your background knowledge:

  • Watch this video to learn about how trees communicate with each other. There are more background building resources below in the “Resource” section below...check them out to learn more.

4. Explore Your Ideas through this Nature Journaling Activity:

  • Bring your art supplies and nature journal (or paper & hard surface) out into your backyard or forested area (if possible).

  • Fold the paper in half.

  • Draw the forest as you see it with trees, shrubs and bushes on the top half of the folded paper.

  • Imagine the network of communication below the trees with fungi sharing nutrients and information. What does that look like to you? How would you represent that idea?

  • Unfold the paper. On the bottom half of the paper draw the underground network as you see it. Use colors, shapes and textures to show this transfer of information.

5. Analyze and Interpret Data

  • Do you think knowing how trees communicate & share is important? What does this mean for forest management? Should we protect certain trees? Share your ideas in your nature journal (or science notebook).

6. Communicate your findings and art!

  • Post photos of your drawing on social media and tag us @sweptahoe on Instagram and/or to @swep4 on Facebook. Be sure to hashtag and follow #SWEPsnippets. If you cannot post directly yourself, send SWEP photos ( This way we can all see each other's renditions of tree communication!

What’s Going On

How do trees share information and resources?

  • Fungi act as the mailmen as they move information and resources underground from root system to root system through mycelium.

  • Scientists call this communication and sharing “The Wood Wide Web”. Get it? It’s like the “World Wide Web” of the internet :).

What resources are shared between trees and why?

  • Resources like: nutrients, sugars, carbon and water are transferred back and forth between trees. An example of this sharing of resources: When Douglas fir (evergreen) tree become shaded by birch trees (deciduous) in the spring and cannot access the sun for photosynthesis (to make food), birch trees will send nutrients (food) over to the Douglas fir. Then in the fall, when the leaves fall off the birch tree (deciduous) and it can no longer make its own food, the Douglas fir (evergreen) will share nutrients (food) with the birch tree. Thus, two different tree species help each other in times of need.

  • Also, defence signaling messages can be shared between trees. If one tree is being attacked by an animal, bug or invasive species the tree alerts their network to let them know to put out defence mechanisms to protect themselves.

Who is sharing?

  • Mother trees or hub trees are a big aspect of sharing, as they help out younger generations of trees. Mother trees are higher up in the canopy and can access more sunlight. They can also access more water and nutrients through their large root structures. Mother trees then send nutrients and information out to the smaller trees living in the shade and understory.

Do all species play nicely?

  • Unfortunately, no. Some species steal and feed off other forest plants.

Helpful Vocabulary:


A fungus is a simple organism, or living thing, that is neither a plant nor an animal. When there is more than one fungus they are called fungi. Some familiar fungi are mushrooms, molds, mildews, truffles, and yeasts.


Mycelium is the vegetative (non-reproductive) part of a fungus. It is usually underground (or inside some other substance), and made of filaments.

Evergreen: Evergreen trees have leaves that stay green through more than one growing season. Some familiar evergreen trees include pine sugar pines, lodgepole pines & Jeffery pines.

Deciduous: Deciduous trees are trees that shed their leaves once a year, usually during the season of autumn, when their leaves are mature, or fully grown.


Going Further

Add to the Conversation in the Forest: Plant Your Own Sugar Pine Tree!

  • Learn about why sugar pine trees are an important part of the Tahoe ecosystem and what is threatening them in this informative video from the Sugar Pine Foundation.

  • Plant a sugar pine tree in your backyard or nearby forest. Getting out to plant trees is a healthy, fun, safe way to help our forests while going for a nature walk. SWEP is partnering with the Sugar Pine Foundation to host a Sugar Pine Tree Pick-Up in Kings Beach.

    • Where: 8777 Speckled Ave. Kings Beach, CA (Ashley’s House). Seedlings will be in bags under a table at the end of the driveway, curbside. Please stay safe and practice physical distancing when picking up seedlings.

    • When: Seedlings will be available starting Friday 4/17/2020 and continue until we run out! We will replenish as supplies last throughout the next few weeks. Come by whenever is convenient for you to pick up the seedlings.

    • How Many: Trees are FREE, and you can take as many trees as you will actually plant. Volunteers can spend as much time planting as they like, but usually it takes 1 hr to plant a bag of 15 seedlings.

Planting Tips:

  1. Choose an open area in the forest to plant your seedling(s). (Tip: you don’t want to plant right next to or directly under other trees.)

  2. Water the seedling thoroughly and remove it from its bag.

  3. Assess the size of the seedlings roots and dig a hole at least as deep as the roots are long and twice as wide.

  4. Loosen the soil at the bottom and around the sides of the hole.

  5. Place the seedling in the hole with the roots pointed straight down.

  6. Fill the hole with soil and pack it in around the roots so as not to leave large air pockets around the roots. (Tip: Be careful not to compact the soil too much; the roots need to breathe!)

  7. Spray the area surrounding the seedling with water.

  8. Once the seedling is in the ground, its success depends on your taking good care of it! Mostly, this means watering it. Soak the soil completely when watering, but make sure that it does not remain saturated and let it dry out between waterings. In the spring and fall, plan to water your seedling about twice a week, and about 3 times a week in the summer months. (Tip: When there is snow on the ground, you don’t need to worry about watering the seedling!)

  • Other Tree Pick-Up Locations: There are other pick-up locations throughout the Tahoe-Truckee Region. Visit Sugar Pine Foundation’s Facebook page or website to find the closest pick-up location to you.

Thank you to Sugar Pine Foundation for supporting healthy forests and getting us all outside!!!

Please review SWEP's Terms of Use prior to using this resource.

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