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From Tree to Shining Tree

Saturday, July 30, 2016 - 05:06 AM

(Photo Credit: Flickred!/Flickr)

A forest can feel like a place of great stillness and quiet. But if you dig a little deeper, there’s a hidden world beneath your feet as busy and complicated as a city at rush hour.

In this story, a dog introduces us to a strange creature that burrows beneath forests, building an underground network where deals are made and lives are saved (and lost) in a complex web of friendships, rivalries, and business relations. It’s a network that scientists are only just beginning to untangle and map, and it’s not only turning our understanding of forests upside down, it’s leading some researchers to rethink what it means to be intelligent. 

Produced by Annie McEwen and Brenna Farrell. Special Thanks to Latif Nasser, Stephanie Tam, Teresa Ryan, Marc Guttman, and Professor Nicholas P. Money at Miami University. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified naturalist David Attenborough as his late brother, actor Richard Attenborough. In addition, it dated the earliest scientific studies of fungi to the late 19th century, whereas naturalists have studied fungi since the 17th century. Lastly, we mistakenly stated that the oxygen that a plant respires comes from CO2, when in reality it comes from water. The audio has been adjusted to correct these facts.

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Jennifer Frazer, Roy Halling and Suzanne Simard


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Comments [137]

1234567890 from boston

wood wide web da dam chum!

Mar. 05 2018 03:24 PM
tss from phil

I wonder if they posses love and affection towards each other or towards their fungus. That would be so much fascinating

Jan. 16 2018 11:08 AM


Dec. 15 2017 10:55 AM
Shashank from INDIA

I love the narrative style here. Your podcast has the elements of curiosity, wisdom, innocence and engaging information perfectly blended concoction of science and human curiosity. Cheers guys.

Oct. 24 2017 02:27 PM

There are few things I love in life, fashion, food, songs and nature.

Jul. 29 2017 03:49 PM

The song made me cry, I love nature.

Jul. 29 2017 03:37 PM

One of the greatest

Jul. 29 2017 03:34 PM
John Saari from Prescott, Arizona

We had always assumed that when we thinned the forest we live in, we improved the health of the remaining trees because more water was available. Turns out it is also the nutrients that are bequeathed from the thinned trees to those left behind. What I am wondering is, Do cut trees leave the same resources behind as those trees that die a more natural death?

Jul. 21 2017 01:54 PM

Why call this an "economy" of trees. Why does everything in America have to do with money and trade?

Life isn't that way at all.

Jun. 09 2017 07:20 AM
Renee from Las Cruces, NM

Does this mean house plants are lonely? Cut off from the root-highway of their companion plants only feet away?

May. 03 2017 06:44 PM
Joan Soo

Loved this. There is a tedtalk, too.

Apr. 02 2017 04:22 PM
Sarah A

Great story, I love the wonder and excitement you demonstrate about soil science, but I have a question. I'm getting my M.S. in Agriculture, Health, and Development and I have taken quite a few soil science classes. The knowledge that nitrogen fixing plants, many tree species included, have Mycorrhizal fungi living in the nodes of the roots to assist with N fixation is not new science. I learned that many years ago. What is different about that science to what is happening with the trees in this podcast? Is it the same?

Nov. 21 2016 02:55 PM
Witch Girl

This is a nice story and I can see this girl likes studing the earth which is nice.

Nov. 21 2016 01:52 PM
Stephanie Middleton from Stafford, VA

I used part of this episode when talking about symbiotic relationships with my AP Environmental students. They loved it. We are now onto aquatic and marine biomes. Do mangrove forests have the same symbiotic relationship with fungi?

Nov. 09 2016 09:33 AM

Symbiosis is one of my very favorite topics. At one time symbiosis was portrayed as a bit of a novelty among a few organisms. Now we're learning that few, if any organisms function without such relationships. This story is entertainingly told and utterly captivating. I want to embed it in my class website, but the f-bomb prohibits me from doing this. Is there any way to sanitize it and reissue it so teachers can share the podcast with their younger students? I teach 4th graders about biodiversity and interdependence and I know they would love it.

Oct. 31 2016 10:51 PM
Sarah from Alton, NH

This is a terrific episode. I'm using it with my students. Have you considered attaching a few photos to your podcast so that we can see images of the fungi, springtails, etc.
Also, if you can avoid the F... word, I would appreciate it. We are modeling for our students.
Thanks again.

Oct. 23 2016 10:13 AM
6en Rödabergsskolan from Stockholm, Sweden

We loved this episode! Our brains exploded! We found some fungi in the park next to our school. We all taught our families about what we learned from this episode. We have questions:
What is the name of the fugus that connects everything together? We want to see what it looks like.
Is it a poisonous fungus? Is there more than one kind of species?
Is it everywhere or only in forests? Can it connect to other plants?
What happens when trees are clear-cut? Do the fungi survive?
What happens when the fungi are cut? How do they die?
If all of the fungi would be stretched out into a line, how far would it reach?
Thank you for inspiring us!
Students of 6en at Rödabergsskolan

Oct. 20 2016 06:51 AM
Tyson Miracle from Gainesville, FL

I... LOVE... this episode!

Oct. 18 2016 11:01 PM
Deb Meinke from Stillwater, OK

With the underground intelligence of the forest, I have hope that there will be complex life after climate change.

Oct. 15 2016 06:06 PM

My 8 year old demanded that we listen to this episode twice... and he's not even a nerd like me. Seriously though, he struggles in school and episodes like this one make me so happy that we found Radiolab. Any new way we can find to help him learn cool, new stuff is awesome, so thank you! As for the Fbomb, only my 14 year old heard it -- the little two missed it twice. Not the end of the world, but certainly better without it.

Oct. 13 2016 05:36 PM

What a spectacular piece! Literally gave me goose-bumps! Keep it up, guys!

Oct. 08 2016 09:12 AM
Tristan from California

I was looking at the New York Botanical Research page and reading about the Genomics, I was inspired about the signal-warning system. I know that beetles are a big problem because I saw some affected areas driving into Yosemite for a Field Geology class. I'm wondering, can genes for a warning present in an ecosystem where a pathogenic vector (a bettle) originates be harnessed to implement in the new ecosystems? Would this work with different plant species? Can genetic exchange occur across the subterranean network?

Oct. 04 2016 01:06 AM
Eric from Seattle, WA

WOW! Awesome. I loved this episode and so did my kids. Fbomb is no prob. You think they haven't heard that in school?

Sep. 29 2016 09:43 PM
karl from Helsinki

Does this mean vegetables aren't vegan?

Sep. 21 2016 05:57 AM
Rose from Tucson, AZ

This episode had me in TEARS! I love Biology and plants so much. Life is so interconnected. It's truly beautiful.

Sep. 20 2016 11:32 PM

I love this episode! Love the F bomb! I'm sure it ain't easy finding cool obscure topics like this. Completely blew me away. Thanks guys!

Sep. 17 2016 04:40 PM
Jill from Oberlin, Ohio

Do you happen to know of any handouts or coloring pages (like Invisibilia has - hint hint) that would make teaching these concepts easier?

Sep. 06 2016 11:18 PM
Emilio Baez from Malden, Ma

Who is Ashely broncurtsi, im not sure how to spell it. But she did an ad in the intro. I want to maybe meet her for a cup since we live in the same city.

Sep. 05 2016 11:11 PM
MsGvious from London

Beyond awesome episode. Thanks so much. I hope you don't mind me sharing it on my blog ( Thought of a new word ... extraforestrial :)

Sep. 03 2016 04:48 PM
Chia Lynn Kwa from Brooklyn, NY

This makes me feel less bad about not being a vegetarian :P

Aug. 30 2016 01:40 PM

Very cool show. Most people who grew up wandering the woods realize there is some much larger deeper wisdom or interconnected symbiosis going on but the incredible intelligent support and links between fungus and trees is absolutely mind-blowing. So if you are buried in a forest of old growth trees- the fungus (more than the worms) will chow down on you, your essence and nutrients will be taken up by the arboreal giants and you will live in some form for 1000 years. All the ancient legends of the Woods have some basis in reality.

Aug. 27 2016 07:35 PM
the phenol

Great listen,

Please forgive me if this post is above. I am a sommelier and terrior is always a topic of debate because how do you prove that there is minerality in a wine. Well, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi could prove to play a large part in the transition. So thank you very much for the podcast, there will be many sommeliers downloading it shortly!

Aug. 27 2016 05:57 PM
laura from Renton, WA

As a listener, I felt like the F-bomb worked, but as a teacher who'd love to use this podcast with my 7th grade environmental science class, it complicates things. I can listen in class and try to skip over that, or try to get approval from parents before assigning listening for homework. For the teachers, it'd make it much easier to use the RadioLab podcasts (which I love, and often try to incorporate, btw) if you could edit out the profanity.

Aug. 26 2016 06:08 PM
Rebecca from Australia

Absolutely loved this article! The presentation was amazing - had my mind really plunging deep into the forrest floor - Fascinating topic, emotional music, great story flow, strong supporting evidence and the intrigue... great work!

Aug. 26 2016 12:30 AM
george from Indianapolis

So this is the spring tail equivalent of the game SOMA?

Aug. 25 2016 06:18 PM
Carlie from Upstate New York

This episode was phenomenal! As for the use of words considered profane, I have no problem with it. Frankly, it's refreshing. I like that Radiolab is relaxed in that way. Those offended by profanity tend not to examine the literal meanings or the etymological origin of the words in question, simply accepting that they are "bad." The ambiguity of a taboo resonates over critical thinking of /why/ it's bad. Is it? Really? Do you need to skip an episode because of a few words? Is your life so uninterrupted anything of substance that you need to protect yourself and your children from words? Are their not worse words that do more violence and harm? Skip ahead a few seconds if you're letting your students listen to it. The lessons in this podcast are immensely fascinating!

Aug. 25 2016 11:18 AM
Raeford from Brooklyn

This is great! But have you ever heard of Terence McKenna? He was talking about this and forests as chemical networks 20 YEARS AGO! Better late than never for validation I guess...

Aug. 24 2016 08:35 PM
Matt from California

Fantastic episode! I find it sad that we spend so much time and energy, wasting countless resources over the years only to discover through science that aboriginal tribes all around the globe were more correct in their beliefs about the world than we were. Our cutting-edge science is just starting to confirm their nearly-dead poetry. It's as if we're only starting to to understanding what humans knew for hundreds of thousands of years (millions of years if we count all the other human species) before we decided to build in defiance of nature. My kids will definitely hear this episode. It is as much a spiritual lesson as a scientific one.

Aug. 22 2016 01:46 PM

Love you guys.
The f bomb was spicy (due to it's rarity) and appropriate in the face of such astounding science.
I wish I could force-feed you to everyone I know.

Aug. 21 2016 01:30 PM
Jonpaul from Metro Detroit

I am surprised that no one made a reference to an X-Files episode where there was a huge fungus that covered acres. In the episode the fungus even has an acid that can dissolve food. In this episode the fungus uses its hallucinogenic properties above ground to get animals and people inside the ground to be disolved instead of small rocks. Still I think the similarities are worth mentioning.

Aug. 21 2016 01:14 PM
Aaron H from WIsconsin

Have loved all your podcasts but this ranks, to date, at the top for its interesting/fascinating factor.

Aug. 20 2016 12:58 PM

Looking for people's thoughts on this. The idea of the "chemical signal" of the tree when it is in distress - could that somehow be connected to Rupert Sheldrake's theory on morphic resonance? I understand that it might not be a direct connection. Simply looking for people's opinions. Thanks!

Aug. 19 2016 01:54 PM

Seriously folks. Do you think you're children will never hear the F word at school, in a park, or just randomly from a passerby?? Let them hear it for C-sake!!! Then explain why it was used in this particular context. Educate your children rather than sequester them in some artificial world devoid of the truth. It's a f__king beautiful world and I'm f___king grateful to have an understanding of just how f___king mysterious it is.

Aug. 17 2016 05:46 PM
Ryan from California

So if you listen between the lines are they thinking that the fungi are farming the trees to some extent? If we marvel at ancient trees underneath them is probably an even more ancient mycelia network. And much like the book "Food of Gods" could fungi be responsible for "farming" and helping us to evolve to be more self aware and "spiritually" aware?

Aug. 17 2016 09:28 AM
Dick Mcgowan baker from England

I brought my daughter up just right.
Now she has a real interest in the wild, grows her own vegetables, brings her son up the same way and points me towards goodies like this transmission.
I brought my daughter up just right.

Aug. 17 2016 03:18 AM
Am from North Carolina

I am such a fan and I flipped for this fantastic broadcast on a fantastic subject. I was all ready to promote across social media as a PERFECT thing to listen to with your kids when I hear that the F-word has slipped into the edited broadcast. I don't care, but I know so many parents who do. And this story--particularly the enthusiasm and energy with which you tell it--is so perfect for young people who don't get it yet about science. I'm writing just to suggest that what you lose in terms of potential listenership is so much greater than what is gained by retaining a single F-word. (By the way, when I tried using the full F-word in this comment, an automatic editor popped up: "Watch your mouth! The word "f--k" is not allowed here." Bravo for that!) Please consider in the future that there are all kinds of kids from all kinds of backgrounds who need to hear your broadcasts. Many thanks.

Aug. 16 2016 06:22 PM
mfumbesi from Pretoria

Thank you for an excellent podcast.
I remember reading about possible mining techniques using microbes way back in the 90s. Its called Bioleaching.

Aug. 16 2016 04:27 AM
Noora from Scotland

Thanks for a good episode again! Good work!

Aug. 16 2016 04:14 AM
Greg from Phoenix

So - wait - You're telling me the Wood Wide Web has a series of tubes!

Aug. 15 2016 04:45 PM

I would love to have a picture slideshow of this intricate system of fungus and tree roots. Anyone have any ideas on where to look for this? I wasn't even sure what search term to use. (Sorry if it's a dumb question).

Aug. 15 2016 11:53 AM
Sarah from Virginia

This episode had me immediately thinking of a theory of Maria Montessori's that she explains in "The Absorbent Mind". "The purposes of the living creatures in this world cannot surely be only to live, to survive in the struggle for existence, each trying to get the best it can out of its surroundings for its own benefit in a kind of free-for-all scramble, as envisaged by the Darwinian explanation of evolution...the purposes of living seem to be related rather to the doing of work needed by the environment...The harmony of nature on the earth's surface is produced by the efforts of countless living beings, each of which has its own duties. These are the forms of behavior that we observe, and it follows that such behavior serves purposes far beyond the mere ministering of each to its own vital needs...Today, the vision of evolution has broadened; it has become spread over a bi-dimentional field, wherein are included many functional relationships, near and distant, which link up the activities of different forms of life. Those links are not to be interpreted just as simple examples of mutual aid, bust as being related to a universal end concerning the total world environment--to a kind of oneness of nature. From the order which results, all receive the elements necessary for their own existence."

Aug. 14 2016 10:15 PM
Anthony Pearce from Australia

God I love radiolab, but the production is becoming unbearable. Why is made to sound like it's for children? If I hear one more inane repetition I may stab myself in the leg. There are so few good adult podcasts, I'd hate to lose this one, but it's definitely on the horizon at this rate.

Aug. 11 2016 09:49 AM
Charle McAnulty from Calgary

Listening to the lead up to the trees sharing nutrients, I was thinking of mushrooms. A great article from the Sun Magazine was about a scientist who studies these mushroom colonies that stretch throughout the forest floor.

Aug. 10 2016 01:56 PM
Bill from Austin

What was the moody song, slow piano over a nice synth at the end of the show?

Also, more fbombs please.

Thanks, Bill from austin texas

Aug. 09 2016 11:59 PM
Tommy from San Diego

If traces of Salmon have been found in trees and in some places make up most of the tree, is there evidence to show traces of human remains being responsible for a trees growth? Do trees eat humans!?

Aug. 09 2016 10:28 AM
Wranst from Terms of Use

Sh-t-ng f--k-ng sh-t! Holy f--k-n sh-t-ng f-ck-sh-t that f--kin was in-f--king m--thrf--king un-f--king-believe-a-f--king-ble!

Aug. 09 2016 07:19 AM

This program was amazing. The part that discusses the communication between the trees and fungi reminds me of the communication between mother and child during breastfeeding. The glands and their secretions communicate so that if the baby is "wearing down" or needs a boost of one protein or another it is supplied to the baby in the milk. The milk is very much on tap designed to give the baby exactly what it needs. That intelligence or intelligent system is alive in both stories.

Aug. 08 2016 03:26 PM
Jo from Kenmore, WA

Fascinating story; thanks for sharing!

Aug. 07 2016 06:20 PM
Ves from Califorina

Do Mycorrhiza have electro-chemical responses and how many? I'm so out of my gourd with this amazing truly thought provoking episode hours after having listened. So many more questions and I can't find my own underground network to be as enthralled as I am to get "more, everything, what else can we do to find it?!" Well, besides...hrm...the Internet. I am in love.

Thank you for this episode! And I AGREE: Holy Fu8k out of the HOLIEST Fu8k!

Aug. 07 2016 05:14 PM
Mark D from TX

Try to say F-U-C-K or F-U-C-K-I-N-G in the comments and you get this warning in red font: Watch your mouth! The words "f--k", "f-----g" and "f----n" are not allowed here.

Aug. 06 2016 02:24 PM
melissa from high horse

what I'd really like now is for Radiolab to do a whole episode on why swearing/profanity upsets people.. especially when it involves words that are not connected to blasphemy or any kind of prejudice or slur.

Aug. 06 2016 03:34 AM
Lindy from Seattle, WA

Has anyone read _The Hidden Life of Trees_ by Peter Wohlleben? I'm eagerly awaiting the English translation and I'm wondering if the book leans more toward science or if it's primarily personal reflections and meditations (either will suffice for me).

Aug. 06 2016 01:40 AM
Karen B from Seattle

I was wrong. They f- bombs are still there at minute 25+.

Aug. 05 2016 05:50 PM
Karen B from Seattle

Looks like the f- bombs are no longer there.

Aug. 05 2016 05:48 PM
Karen B from Seattle

Salmon in trees is caused more by the death of millions of salmon in and next to streams and rivers after spawning, not bears eating salmon then dropping the salmon carcasses. See various publications, including Salmon in the Trees: an Assessment of Dendrochemical Techniques for Detecting Marine Derived Nutrients in Tree Rings by Gerdts, Jody ; Helfield, James Gerdts, Jody (correspondence author) 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Fisheries Society (AFS 2011).

Aug. 05 2016 05:36 PM
John Horn from San Francisco

This story is so cool. It reminded me of David Suzuki, from whom I first heard about the inter-connected eco-system of salmon and bears along the rivers in the Northwest.

Aug. 05 2016 02:02 PM
Suzanne from Washington

I agree with Jeff from Texas. Great show; hate the profanity.

Aug. 05 2016 12:54 PM
denis from Montreal

Wonderful episode and while some may have already been familiar with the topic and seemingly have gone out of their way to say "I already knew that" it was new to me and mind blowing. I've no idea why people are so bent out of shape for using the word foque but am not surprised that it is more of a focus for some than the content of the story. As for the old, and inaccurate, saw that profanity is the refuge of those without sufficient vocabulary I offer this from the November 15 edition of the journal Language Science "Speakers who use taboo words understand their general expressive content as well as nuanced distinctions that must be drawn to use slurs appropriately. The ability to make nuanced distinctions indicates the presence of more rather than less linguistic knowledge, as implied by the Poverty of Vocabulary view." If hearing a curse word is the worse thing that ever happens in your life or the life of your children consider yourself lucky.

Aug. 05 2016 11:45 AM
Tyrone Wells from Atlanta

Correction: Lignin does help the rigidity of plants, but it does not have any nitrogen as any part of it's native composition. it does not "have nitrogen" as said in this show.

Vanholme, Ruben, et al. "Lignin biosynthesis and structure." Plant physiology 153.3 (2010): 895-905.

Hatakeyama, Hyoe, and Tatsuko Hatakeyama. "Lignin structure, properties, and applications." Biopolymers. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2009. 1-63.

Wells, Tyrone, Matyas Kosa, and Arthur J. Ragauskas. "Polymerization of Kraft lignin via ultrasonication for high-molecular-weight applications." Ultrasonics sonochemistry 20.6 (2013): 1463-1469.

Boerjan, Wout, John Ralph, and Marie Baucher. "Lignin biosynthesis." Annual review of plant biology 54.1 (2003): 519-546.

Love this episode by the way!

Aug. 05 2016 11:31 AM
Tyrone from Atlanta

Hey guys, I love this show.

ONE CORRECTION. There's no nitrogen content in lignin.

Lignin is complex and can be sulphonated or bonded to plant sugars but lignin itself is a nitrogen free polymer in nature. It's likely a misunderstanding or a chance mispoke on the scientist's part, she's likely not a paper chemist/engineer and focuses more on microbiology. Perhaps she meant proteins that try to degrade lignin (lignases) can be bound to lignin--so as a whole, there would be lignin and nitrogen-containing enzymes with it. That's a fair possibility, but lignin specifically is nitrogen free.

Great show!

Aug. 05 2016 11:19 AM
Samantha from Ferndale, Mi

Hey all, Radiolab plays amazing music and I was thrilled to hear one of my favorite composers during this equally amazing episode. Around the 27 1/2 minute mark you'll hear some super happy music being played on a Moog synthesizer. That track is called Country Rock Polka and it's by Jean-Jacques Perrey off the 1970 album Moog Indigo.

Have a lovely day all!!!

Aug. 05 2016 09:18 AM
Rolf from Amsterdam

Great episode! So happy to see (hear?) Radiolab get back to this high standard after that horrible previous episode. Loved it!

Aug. 05 2016 07:34 AM
Sandy from Ontario

Fascinating episode. I wish all science could be presented in this way. Love you guys.

Aug. 04 2016 07:28 PM


I doubt they will provide you with a special copy of the program, but you could try editing out the cursing yourself by downloading the mp3 and opening it with an audio editing program like Audacity, which is free. That program makes it pretty easy to visually highlight a part of an audio file and delete it, making an awkward but quick jump in the playback probably not dissimilar to censorship of cursing on TV.

Aug. 04 2016 03:21 PM

Hey listen all the time and often use your podcasts in class to extend my students learning at home. Is there any way to get this episode without the cursing. Would love to use it but unfortunately cannot because of the language in one small section. Doesn't bother me personally but can't make that decision for my students families who might be offended.

Aug. 04 2016 01:41 PM
Jimena from Mexico City

I loved this episode! It was beautifully done, thank you so much. I teach History at UNAM's School of Architecture, and I just wish my students could speak english so they could understand the philosophical concept of Organicism through this particular episode. Love your work.

Aug. 04 2016 12:42 PM

I curse like a sailor so the curse words don't bother me a bit. However, it would be good for RL to warn people that there will be some salty language so they can skip the episode if they'd rather not hear profanity.

Aug. 04 2016 12:35 PM
Steve from Indianapolis

I just don't understand how people can say there is no evidence for creationism. Complex organisms in interdependent systems developing symbiotic relationships. What more do you need? How could any of these organisms evolve on their own? Also, think about how benign these systems are. Think about how easy it is to live among them and benefit from their goodness. It's all a gift from God. I don't know how anyone can not believe that. OK. Let the mocking begin.

Aug. 03 2016 06:33 PM
Chris from Berlin

I love Radiolab and donate money to support it, but like few other listeners I was disappointed with the casual dropping of f-bombs. Sure, foul language is everywhere, to the point to be considered a new normal. But if I wanted it, I can tune into almost any other place to get it in abundance. What distinguishes you are amazing stories and careful production. I don't think you need to emulate everyone else just to appear "hip".

I think I know what you did you decide to have it in the show, I just expected more class from you guys.

Aug. 03 2016 05:53 PM
Marie Behn-Segall from Denmark (the country)

This episode was mind-blowing! I'm always thrilled, when a more sciency type of episode comes up, and for a long time know they have been sparse. This was really an epic episode. I love Radiolab!

Aug. 03 2016 05:42 PM
Kym from Westchester County, NY

I loved this episode. I kept having visions of Gimli standing in Fangorn Forest, but I guess it's not just the Ents that should concern us!

Aug. 03 2016 05:25 PM

At 22:40: It's David Attenborough, not Richard Attenborough!!!!!!!

Aug. 03 2016 01:11 PM
Nick D from Los Angeles, Ca

Thank you Radiolab! this was so good!! It puts one of the best nature documentaries I've seen called The Queen of Trees in a whole new perspective.

Aug. 03 2016 12:58 PM
River La Belle from Massachusetts, USA

Hello Jad,

This episode was the best episode I've ever heard from RadioLab. I estimate I've listened through about 30 or 40 of your podcasts over the past couple years. This one was completely enthralling and mind-blowing.

Of all the episodes I've ever heard, this is the first one that I wanted to share with everyone in my life, especially my six younger siblings (ages 10-19), because it is simply so incredible.

However, to my great disappointment, your use of a strong swear word multiple times in the middle of the episode means that I can't. I'm very sad, because this ruins (as far as shareability) the best episode I've heard from you folks. But I'm hopeful that you may produce a clean version so that I can share this incredible story with my family and friends. Please do, and let us all know when you do.

Thank you for your good broadcasting. I hope you may be more considerate in the future about your use of strong swear words so that your episodes can make their way around and thus grow your audience. That is what is at stake here.


River La Belle

Aug. 03 2016 11:49 AM

Good to see we everyone that listens to Radiolab can handle words. You kids are adorable. Girls don't have cooties, Santa isn't real, you probably aren't going to be a firefighter, and no one cares about your opinion. Kick rocks.

Aug. 03 2016 08:52 AM
Yani Udiani from North Carolina

Jeff from Texas & Mjb from NJ,

Oooh, someone’s looking me up O.o

In all seriousness, I’m not here to start a fight. There’s no need to get defensive; and there’s certainly no need to get personal.

Jeff from Texas,

Your response is nowhere near adequate. My argument made no calls to my authority. The argument stands on its own, regardless of who is making it. Consequently, my age is irrelevant, and using it as a challenge is fallacious. If you feel that I was not convincing, as it seems, then please deconstruct my argument.

Mjb from NJ,

You might consider that information to be old and mundane, but for someone who is not exposed to this field, it can be mind blowing.

I don’t need to know how old your kids are. All I need to know, is that you expect them to be mature enough to meaningfully process the world around them by exposing them to Radiolab.

As far as I understand, this forum is here for people to speak their minds. So no, I won’t be silent. You have every right and ability to process, accept or reject my arguments.

Jeff from Texas & Mjb from NJ

Since, I failed to convince both of you, I will supplement my argument with personal experience. It seems that may appeal to you more. As a kid, I developed a fascination with science based programming. I was fascinated with that kind of programming for the same reason I find this podcast amazing. That is the broadcasting of mind-blowing information. Then, I knew little about science; nor was I aware of the coming terrible science education I would get from most of my public schooling. During my worse moments in science classes, subject to immense confusion and a resulting dissatisfaction, I remembered the days and the excitement that I got from learning cosmology on the History Channel. This was instrumental in keeping me interested in science.

Now, consider that on a show like The Universe on the History Channel (one of my favorite shows), a curse word was rarely used. Now consider that my parents heard that, and decided to limit my access to that show to protect my supposed fragile mind. I argue that they would have done a great disservice to me. The value I obtained from those programs was instrumental in my trajectory in determining my identity. A curse word does not power anywhere close to that.

The reality is that curse words are heavily prevalent in our culture. Your kids will be exposed to that; in fact, I argue that they already are exposed to that.

MJB, your kids may listen to this podcast and decide that they want to study forestry. Do you want to remove that chance because of two F words? That just isn’t to proportion.

All I ask that you give your kids more of a chance to engage interesting things about this world. TED did a great piece on this. I linked it below:

Aug. 03 2016 12:22 AM

Dear Jad,
I have long enjoyed the work you and your team create; however your use of the word "F@#K" on both Radio Lab and More Perfect only serves to diminish your thoughtfully crafted presentations and makes me question whether I can share the story with others.

Aug. 02 2016 10:02 PM

Dear Jad,
I have long enjoyed the work you and your team create; however your use of the word "F@#K" on both Radio Lab and More Perfect only serves to diminish your thoughtfully crafted presentations and makes me question whether I can share the story with others.

Aug. 02 2016 09:51 PM

As an AP Biology teacher, I have to say that Radiolab has been a treasure trove of resources. I got goosebumps listening to this and thinking about all of ways I can use this podcast to introduce various concepts. You guys span the gamut here in terms of the big ideas of biology (the process of doing science, biosynthesis, cell communication, symbiosis, evolution, and so much more). I will absolutely be sharing this podcast with my students and developing some sort of activity based on this episode. Like Matt, I found myself laughing with excitement when each new unexpected discovery was unveiled. The end of the podcast was especially powerful. Suzanne's description of the interconnectedness of life was a beautiful way to end such an exciting journey.

Last semester, we enjoyed Cellmates, Colors, and Galapagos (to name a few). You help me bring the material to life! Thank you!

Aug. 02 2016 08:17 PM
Chuck Woolery from Orlando, FL

Everyone complaining about the language sounds like such a fragile little busybody. Especially jeff from texas and Mjb from nj. You both are pathetic.

Aug. 02 2016 06:31 PM
Caitlin from Montana

Great, great episode. I just wanted to point out what I think was a slip--Robert referred to "Richard Attenborough" but I think he meant David Attenborough when talking about Springtails, is that right?
Thank you!

Aug. 02 2016 05:47 PM
Jack Olson

Grow up, Jad. Or at least learn how to use an audio editor. Not all your listeners are as "cool and hip" as you, but we still love the content...

Aug. 02 2016 05:36 PM

Thanks, Radiolab! For the first time in a long time I was so excited after listening to your show that I had to share the newly learned knowledge with the people around me.

I have to agree with other commenters that the cursing was unprofessional. I don't have a problem with cursing- I've been known to spit out some four letter words in my day; I also don't have a problem with kids hearing curse words- this is the real world and I am of the opinion that kids need to learn to live in the world, not be protected from every element of it. But I do consider it to be unprofessional and undignified when profanity is introduced into an educational/entertainment medium when it is not to the direct benefit of the story. What did cursing add to your story? Did it serve a purpose of conveying information about a character, situation, etc? Not really. Rather it may be viewed as immature, unprofessional, and possibly even offensive to your audience. Are you considering your audience when editing these shows?
It seems very bizarre to me that a show would put arbitrary curse words in it that do not add to the content of the story, when it is a show that generally appeals to a wide range of audiences.

Aug. 02 2016 04:37 PM
Kyle from Chicago

Whoa - loved this one. Sounds like James Cameron got some ideas for Avatar from this. Crazy to think that forest "neural networks" like that featured in the film are possibly very real.

Aug. 02 2016 03:48 PM
Cecilia from SF Bay, CA

The episode was really cool--I wanted to share it! Is there a version available without cursing? I don't personally care about the cursing, but if I am to share with students, it would be inappropriate (I'm a substitute teacher).

Aug. 02 2016 01:40 PM
Bob from Zanesville Ohio

I've heard profanity is used because one has poor command of the english language. Love Radiolab.

Aug. 02 2016 10:40 AM
Sean C. from Toronto

Fantastic episode! Never has mycorrhizae been so well and so entertainingly explained. I first learn about this subject as an undergrad from Dr. Paul Stamets's website, he is one of the research pioneers for fungal environmental remediation and fungal/plant relations.

You guys should check out his stuff if this subject interests you:

Aug. 02 2016 10:01 AM
Sean C. from Toronto

Fantastic episode! Never has mycorrhizae been so well and so entertainingly explained. I first learn about this subject as an undergrad from Dr. Paul Stamets's website, he is one of the research pioneers for fungal environmental remediation and fungal/plant relations.

You guys should check out his stuff if this subject interests you:

Aug. 02 2016 10:01 AM
Ben Dover from NJ

F**K!...oh sorry...too hypersensitive around this part of the internet.

Aug. 02 2016 09:22 AM
Devi Natalia from Indonesia

Wonderful and fascinating episode! Welcome back, Radiolab!
I found myself stopped working and fully immersed myself into this episode's experience, well done! I'm so amazed by the forrest community and thank you RadioLab to report this interesting research.

Aug. 02 2016 08:53 AM
K from Here

It never ceases to amaze me how profanity, which more often than not is usually just paired with other words to emphasize strong feelings nowadays, riles people up so much in a world that has so many disgusting slurs and other words/labels more deeply steeped in downright hatred & paired with sickening history to match.

If you found yourself unsettled by the two "f-bombs" spoken during this episode (which has rarely, if ever, happened over the course of many years of this incredible show) you have given it power in that you allowed it to affect you. So much so that instead of commenting something level headed, mature, and fair like "I would really appreciate it if the profanity was edited out", you have individuals feeling so self-righteous in their own behavior here that they ironically use their own language to get on their soap box, cast their finger down in self-appointed "rightful" judgement and say online to someone they don't personally know "you're better than that".... Who exactly are you to dictate what another persons reaction should be?! Like "Jeff from Texas" who assumes Yani is younger than him because he doesn't hold the same opinion as Jeff.

As for the melodramatics here about how Jad "ruined the episode"... It's called parenting and being present. To me that means I listen to the episode BEFORE I let my kids listen to it. That's because I have this crazy theory that no one else, including Radiolab, needs to create things within the confines of my own expectations and follow what I deem appropriate material for my children. That responsibility of parenting means listening to the program then WITH my kids, pausing & fast forwarding it at the appropriate time, and explaining/discussing at the end why I did that. I agree with another commenter in that kids hear and see way more profanity and mature material on a day to day basis than most parents want to admit. Sticking your head in the sand (or in this case throwing a verbal tantrum online) solves nothing. The real reason I'm writing in a comment section for the first time in my adult life is to say thank you all. I let my kids read this comment section which proved to be a more educational conversation than the actual episode itself.. which is incredible given the content of said episode. The know what the F word is. They know why we avoid profanity. Reading the implied word here isn't going to scar them for life. However, the conversations it sparked with us about shaming others, how we decide what has meaning/power, how allowing different beliefs & ways of thinking don't diminish our own individually, and the power words can have in any medium, were priceless. One man's trash is another's treasure. :)

Aug. 02 2016 02:31 AM
Chad from Cedar Park, TX

I'd like to know, before I listen to a podcast, if there is going to be strong language, especially F-bombs. Please give us a warning next time. I appreciate the warnings you have given in the past so I could skip those episodes.

Aug. 01 2016 09:54 PM

Aug. 01 2016 09:11 PM
James Frost from Yeah sure, NC

I can't believe so many of you are angry because they used the word F--k. Must be hell for your kids to live with you.

Aug. 01 2016 08:30 PM

I registered just so that I could comment on the gratuitous F-Bomb. Jad's response may have been "natural" and "valid," as other commenters have suggested. That does not mean that it was not also gratuitous and unnecessary. Let's not pretend that the show is not carefully scripted. The "F-Bomb" added nothing to the story and there are 100 other words in our rich language that could have expressed a sense a wonder. It's a shame that you could not resist taking it down a notch.

Aug. 01 2016 06:26 PM

Is it possible to get a version of this podcast that would be appropriate to play in a classroom? I can't use any media that contains profanity.

Aug. 01 2016 05:55 PM
George Martin from LA

This is all I want from Radiolab. So many of us fell in love with the podcast because of episodes like this one. I truly wish you would spend more resources and passion to make such episodes. Radiolab at its best. Nobody else does it better. Please forget the cheap journalism of More Perfect and embrace the art of science and sound in Radiolab.

Aug. 01 2016 03:22 PM
Skleeve from Portland, OR

Thank you so much for giving us a classic RadioLab episode! Turning the seemingly mundane into the deservedly fascinating reality that surrounds us. Seriously, the connections and relationships within nature are boundless, and I would love to hear more. Thank you thank you thank you!

Aug. 01 2016 02:57 PM
Patrick from Augusta

Wonderful episode, I have been hearing such ideas from the Joe Rogan podcast and the episode, as usual, was well put together and so very interesting and elucidating.

One thought that I did have concerned logging trees that are part of this "wood wide network." Above brings about the point of the speed of transfer amongst the trees, particularly those that are dying. Would it in fact be "better" to kill a tree(s) utilizing a method that would allow the tree time to pass those nutrients on to the rest of the forest rather than the immediate "beheading" that occurs with logging and clearing which I assume immediately takes those nutrients away before they can be passed?

Aug. 01 2016 01:06 PM
CC from Phoenix, AZ

Wonderful episode!! Just a quick note, however, the O2 produced from photosynthesis actually comes from the water plants take in, not CO2. There are numerous publications on this (i.e., Ruben et al. 1941, Journal of the American Chemical Society).

Aug. 01 2016 01:04 PM
Jan-Willem Baas from Wolfheze, The Netherlands

I used to listen to the Dutch news radio, but these days are over now that I discovered the Radiolab. Great episode left me with wanting to learn more.

Long live the Podcast;-)

Aug. 01 2016 12:28 PM
Jad's Mom from NYC

Wonderful episode! Just like the RL that I fell in love with in the first place!! Please use this as a blueprint going forward and lets move on from "Dave and the Wire" and non-science stories.

Aug. 01 2016 11:54 AM
Sameer from Buffalo

Fantastic episode. You guys really hit it out of the park on this one. You have really redeemed yourself from producing that god awful 'debate' episode.

I was going to suggest my 10 yr old daughter who is really into ecology to listen to this episode, but that little four letter word is making it kind of difficult. Was that really necessary?

Aug. 01 2016 08:48 AM
George Gluck from Rockville, MD

One of your best! Makes me wonder ...

Aug. 01 2016 06:48 AM
Leo from Miami, FL

Wow. First time hearing this podcast and instantly becamea fan. Learned so much in this episode, can't wait for the next!

Aug. 01 2016 06:26 AM
T from Melbourne

Champagne Radiolab! and, F-ck off is a perfectly valid response to finding a fish in a tree.

Aug. 01 2016 03:27 AM
Mark from Wistaston

Wonderful episode full of interest, and the reason that I started to listen to RL in the first place. Thank you.

Aug. 01 2016 01:56 AM
Mjb from NJ

The use of profanity in this podcast is nothing more than a gratuitous trick, which, in fact, weakens the episode. A previous episode conveyed the absolutely mind-blowing fact that shrimp can create incandescent balls of plasma, and nobody needed to swear to get that point across. Jad and Robert, you are way better than this! In 2008, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game published an article describing the well-known positive correlation between the size of annual salmon runs and the size of tree rings for the corresponding years. The exact mechanism might not have been known in such detail 8 years ago, but this relationship is old news, and nothing to get excited about. But if you really want to swear, turn off the mics, and yell and scream all you want. (P.S. Yani, you don't know how old my kids are, and I don't appreciate unsolicited parenting advice from a stranger. Keep it to yourself.)

Jul. 31 2016 10:05 PM
Rory from Bellingham, WA

Salmon are a node in the forest nervous system that both give AND receive. Trees and vegetation are fuller and taller around river banks where salmon die off after spawning because their carcasses provide nutrients (obviously)...but salmon also require shaded parts of the river to successfully spawn. Shade provided by nice tall trees! Nice!

Jul. 31 2016 09:38 PM
jeff from Texas

Yani Udiani you are what--about 22 years old!? Stick to physics. You seriously have no credentials to weigh in on this subject. Give yourself 20 years, have some children, then come back and discuss parenting. Meanwhile, I will afford my children the opportunity to listen to great programming sans unnecessary language.

Jul. 31 2016 09:24 PM
shireef from montreal

Correction: In photosynthesis oxygen is released from the splitting of WATER, not CO2. Carbon dioxide is not split, but "fixed" onto other grabby molecules, ultimately building up a molecule of sugar. Water is split to provide electrons and protons needed to capture light energy and convert it to chemical energy.
Loved the episode! Thanks for giving time to mycorrhizae - they are the best!!!

Jul. 31 2016 05:44 PM
Elliott Salter from Grand Rapids, Michigan

Comment/question from Elliott Salter, age 7-1/2: If trees stay healthy by connecting to each other and feeding each other under ground, how is it that the oldest trees in the world (pines, sequoias) are in dry places far from other trees? How can they grow so old without a "wood wide web" -- or do they have one?

Jul. 31 2016 02:05 PM

Instigating, fun and thought provoking as always. I should probably write in every week to sing the praises of Radiolab.

Jul. 31 2016 01:44 PM

At about 25:25 Krulwich says "forestrial." Not sure if that's a word... Please use "sylvan" next time -- it's one of my favorite words!

Jul. 31 2016 01:44 PM
Yani Udiani from North Carolina

I registered just to disagree about the language in this episode. This language does not ruin the podcast at all. Jad's reaction was natural, and justified given the mind-blowing thing he just heard. I found myself using the same exclamation when I heard about salmon in tree rings. I don't understand how this is an issue: Radiolab presents mind-blowing information in a masterpiece of a podcast, and you're concerned about a curse word that was used in context?

To Jeff from Texas & Mjb from Nj, I'm amazed that you think a word stopped your kids from having a learning experience of cutting edge science. The value that they get from everything else in this podcast is of order magnitude greater than the harm done by a word. In today's age, your kids have most likely heard that word or even worse elsewhere. If you're truly concerned about this, as it seems, teach them about those words, and explain to them why they are bad. I suppose that you expose them to science because you expect them to have the maturity to process and understand how the world works. How about you extend that reasoning to the English language?

Jul. 31 2016 01:41 PM
Jeffrey H Post

I would love to see more pictures of the stuff you guys describe in your podcasts. You're the closest people to the source it would be great if each episode was accompanied by an image gallery on the website. Just a suggestion.

Jul. 31 2016 01:11 PM

I registered just to agree about the language in this episode. The explicit language ruins this otherwise phenomenal podcast. I listen to dozens of podcasts, some of which use lots of profanity and have no trouble with it because those shows are for adults and it is known to the listener ahead of time.

I mostly left thinking about how disappointed I was from this episode instead of thinking about the cool science. This is not the first time either for this language. It ruins the mood.

Jul. 31 2016 04:54 AM
Raymond Collins from Nor-Cal

Krulwich anthropomorphizes mycorrhizae throughout the piece then throws a fit when the professor suggests an intelligence? Enough already!

Jul. 31 2016 01:35 AM
barbara from Toronto

Fascinating episode this week!

Jul. 30 2016 09:35 PM

YES! so glad to have a science based radiolab episode! Ive missed this!
Nice Job, as always!

Jul. 30 2016 05:51 PM
manozezez from Germany

At 21m30s, "Richard Attenborough" should be his brother "David Attenborough".

Jul. 30 2016 05:38 PM
Mjb from Nj

EXPLICIT! At the 24 minute mark, they say F@CK OFF. This is not family-friendly. I was excited to have my kids listen to this, but not so much anymore. Extremely disappointed in what was, up until now, my favorite podcast.

Jul. 30 2016 04:09 PM
Robert Hathorne from Oklahoma

The tree communities remind me of how farmers are harnessing the power of mycorrhizal fungi to reduce the need for chemicals and fuel. By planting a variety of crops in the same place, they're "tricking" diverse species into working together. Dang, come to think of it, that would make a cool Radiolab episode. Hey Radiolab, head on over and check that pitch inbox. Got something for ya ;)

Jul. 30 2016 03:00 PM
jeff from Texas

Disappointed. I have loved Radiolab and missed new episodes of late while Jad has been working on More Perfect. Today while listening with my kids we heard super strong language in this latest episode. My kids have always enjoyed listening with me, but today's language was unexpected and unnecessary. It added nothing to the show and took away from my kids the opportunity to learn and listen to great radio. In the words of today's show, "F--K off" "That's F--KIN bananas." Good work ruining a great show and taking away the time I get with my kids learning about science.

By the way, when I tried to post your comments from the radio on this post, your filter told me this: "Watch your mouth! The words "f--k" and "f----n" are not allowed here." Apparently, you have double standards because this is exactly what you said on the radio today. Take your own advice and watch you mouth!

Jul. 30 2016 02:45 PM
matt from Richmond, VA

Ah, thank y'all so much!
I was so excited the moment you started, for people to be learning about mycelium. I laughed out loud sharing in your joy & wonder - I'm so grateful for that.

I'd highly encourage this TED talk:

Jul. 30 2016 02:04 PM
matt from Richmond, VA

Ah, thank y'all so much!
I was so excited the moment you started, for people to be learning about mycelium. I laughed out loud sharing in your joy & wonder - I'm so grateful for that.

I'd highly encourage this TED talk:

Jul. 30 2016 02:04 PM

Do we have any idea what the speed of tree-telephone is?

Jul. 30 2016 12:09 PM

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