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Why we need old trees

Updated: Feb 28

Have you ever seen a 300-year-old beech tree? Or an 800-year-old oak tree? If you're out and about in our forests, you'll notice that old trees are a rarity. Yet it is precisely these trees that are so important for functioning, climate-resilient ecosystems. And our mindset could also be changed by their presence.

The forest - a networked community

Mapping underground fungal networks has shown that the largest and oldest trees are the most interconnected nodes in the forest. These highly connected trees, also known as mother trees, share their excess carbon and nitrogen with the seedlings in the understorey via the mycorrhizal network, which can increase the seedlings' chances of survival. In this way, the mother trees act as central nodes that communicate with the young seedlings around them. In a single forest, a mother tree can be connected to hundreds of other trees.

Network model showing the connections between Douglas fir trees through the mycorrhizal network. The arrow points to the most connected tree. Diagram from Beiler et al. 2010

In addition, it was shown that related seedlings receive more carbon from mother trees than non-related seedlings. However, the mother tree also sends carbon to other seedlings in the neighbourhood. This means that trees of different species also support each other.

Trees are part of a large, networked community in which they interact with their conspecifics and other species and also form kinship relationships with their genetic relatives (Beiler & Simard, 2009).

Old trees as sacred places

Trees have always played an important role for us humans. They serve as meeting places, provide shade and invite us to linger. We have also used them for ritual purposes, gatherings or as places of jurisdiction. Even in Stone Age cave paintings, we find references to the worship of trees. In earlier times, trees were seen as a symbol of the connection between heaven and earth, the material and the spiritual world. Among the Celts, Germanic tribes and other Bronze Age cultures, all tree species were believed to have an inherent essence with which, with a little luck, one could enter into communication. These beings could be found in old, gnarled trees in particular. From Mesopotamia and ancient China to Europe and the Amazon rainforest, trees have always characterised people's attitudes. Siddharta, for example, found his enlightenment meditating under a poplar fig and became Buddha. To this day, ancient trees and sacred groves are still important to many people around the world (Naturwald Akadamie, 2022).

Left: Ash tree in mountain forest in Norway, centre: beech in Eberswalde city forest, right: hawthorn in Mandal city park (Norway)

What we can do today

Old trees are fundamentally important for the ecosystems of the future. Even if we continue to harvest wood from the forests, we should make sure that a critical number of trees grow old and survive for many generations.


And even in the city, old trees could provide more tranquillity, reverence and peace. If in 300 years there is only one giant tree left in our Tiny Forests that has been cared for across generations, then we will have achieved a lot! Because this tree will symbolise for people in the future that we were wise enough today to enrich their lives sustainably.

Our team came across this ancient chestnut tree in Italy's mountain forests this summer. A little Buddha is sitting inside it.


Beiler, K. J., & Simard, S. W. (2009). Architecture of the wood-wide web: Rhizopogon spp. genets link multiple Douglas-fir cohorts. New Phytologist

Naturwald Akadamie. (2022). Als die Götter noch in den Bäumen lebten. Abgerufen am 2022 von

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