What is a Mother Tree?

Mother Trees are large trees within a forest that act as centralized hubs supporting communication and nutrient exchange amongst trees. Using a vast underground fungal network, called the mycorrhizal network, Mother Trees supply seedlings with the resources they need to grow.

Watch Dr. Simard’s TEDTalk to find out more about how trees communicate using the mycorrhizal network.

Why are Mother Trees important?

Research has shown that the connections between Mother Trees and neighbouring trees act as a protective and regenerative element of the forest. Keeping these relationships intact by maintaining the network of connections helps ensure that forests will be more resilient to changes and be productive, healthy and diverse and around for many generations to come.

What is the Mother Tree Research Project?

The Mother Tree Project is a long-term experiment testing forest cutting and planting methods in order to learn how to create resilient forests for the future. The guiding principle is to retain Mother Trees and their connections to protect biodiversity, carbon storage and forest regeneration as climate changes.

Why are you doing this research?

The goal of the project is to provide scientific data to help direct management of forests under a changing climate. Specifically, we are doing experiments to try and determine retention levels and seedling mixes across various climates that will result in successful forest regeneration.

Learn more about our research.

Who is involved in the project?

Led by Dr. Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia (UBC), the Mother Tree Project brings together academia, government, forestry companies, research forests, community forests and First Nations to test forest renewal practices.

Learn more about Dr. Simard and the Mother Tree Project Team.

Who is funding your research?

The primary source of funding to establish the project was a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Strategic Project Grant which was received in October 2015.

Additional funding was provided by Forest Enhancement Society of British Columbia (FESBC) in 2017 to expand the scope of the project to include forest carbon storage, fire risk and wildlife impacts as well as to include First Nations stakeholders.

We received funding in 2019 from the Forest Carbon Initiative (FCI) to do in-depth carbon measurements as well as to monitor the planted and natural regeneration.

How is your project connected to forestry and logging?

The Mother Tree project is building on the research on tree communication and connections to design forest practices that help reduce stress in forests and maintain the natural connections between trees that support forest health.

The experiment is looking at various forestry practices – from variable levels of tree retention during harvesting to a range of seedling mixes during replanting – which can be implemented by foresters to create healthier, more productive, and more resilient forests.

How is your project connected to climate change?

Climate change is causing significant stress on our forests. As climate change continues, forestry practices will need to be adapted in order to accommodate the increasing stress this change is having on the health and productivity of our forests.

Forests are repositories of biodiversity (for example, wildlife, trees, plants, fungi, microbes) and they store carbon (for example, in trees, plants, soils, and logs) helping offset rising atmospheric CO2 levels. Diverse forests have been shown to store more carbon than monocultures. Biodiversity and carbon storage are thus indicators of forest health. The Mother Tree Project is studying how these properties are affected by climate change and forest harvesting.

By experimenting with a range of forestry practices in different climates, the Mother Tree Project aims to identify successful practices within each climatic region. These practices can then be applied in regions where the climate is expected to become similar to the experimental sites.