Christmas Trees Feel Pain, Talk to Other Trees Because Plants Are Smart

So don't think of your local Douglas Fir as a mere ornament holder.

Stephen Butler / Flickr

Gone are the days when you can think of your Christmas tree as an unfeeling yuletide decoration. Thanks to science, we now know that plants are complex organisms that have relationships and form communities. Does your tree miss its farm? Not exactly, but something like that.

Listen to Suzanne Simard, a professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Her research has shown that trees are connected to each other physically through fungal networks underground. Both information and resources travel these networks, passing nutrients in the direction of the trees that most need them.

Of course, the Christmas tree farm where your holiday conifer was cultivated won’t have the deep communication networks of an old growth forest. When humans get involved, we invariably mess up the ability of natural ecosystems to respond to threats and heal themselves. But you can bet those Christmas trees are still talking and feeling. The trees get the game.

What to do with this information? The answer is certainly not to turn to fake, plastic trees. Christmas tree farms are carbon neutral in the long run, and provide ecosystem services like fresh oxygen and erosion protection. The opposite is true for the oil drilling operations and energy-intensive manufacturing required to make fake trees.

No, the proper response to understanding the interconnectedness of the natural world is not to attempt to separate ourselves from it, but to live in it while acknowledging our place in it and appreciating the gifts we receive and the sacrifices trees make.

Your tree’s days may be numbered once it has been hacked from its roots, but it is still a living, breathing thing. A Christmas tree can drink a gallon of water every day after it is cut, and it will fill your home with moisture and oxygen and life force.

So, don’t mourn your Christmas tree’s death, but celebrate its life. Treat your tree less like a trinket from the store and more like a puppy dog that has been separated from its mother and siblings so that he might be welcomed into your home and family.

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