Pettit Environmental Preserve highlights ‘wood wide web’ March 9

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Forest intelligence will take center stage during Pettit Environmental Preserve's public offering March 9. The Explore Nature Saturday event will be presented from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and feature presentations by EcoAddendum Executive Director Kathryn Kolb at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

“I will share some of the new research about the intelligence of trees and plants and other creatures, and we’ll learn to ‘read’ our forest’s story, looking at growth patterns that tell us how the forest and its myriad species respond to various challenges,” Kolb said. “We'll cover info about the intra-forest communication system, the ‘wood wide web,’ and how some plants learned to change their behavior in scientific experiments and how plants use quantum mechanics. We'll also talk about what we find as we walk along the trail, observing how native forest species interact with and shape each other, musing on the roles that individual's thoughts and feelings may play in the greater forest story.

“I think it's fascinating to realize how all living things are more deeply intelligent [than] we commonly think, and that the actions, choices and decisions made by thousands and millions of individual lives — mostly very different from ours — together create the life-sustaining systems of our planet.”

Situated off Highway 61 on the Bartow/Paulding county line, the preserve was formed as a private, nonprofit corporation — The Margaret and Luke Pettit Environmental Preserve Inc. — in 1999 when the late Gay Pettit Dellinger and her children initially donated 60 acres of property.

According to pettitpreserve.org, the venue’s mission “is to act as guardian and steward for land under its auspices; to responsibly conserve the land; and, to judiciously use the land for education and research.”

Open to the general public during scheduled programs, the 70-acre venue consists of various trails developed by Switchbacks Trail Design & Construction, a lake, three amphitheaters, self-contained composting toilets, two aquatic stations and a Learning Shed. More than 20,000 patrons have visited the preserve or received outreach through its programs since the site opened in 2006.

“We tend to look at plant interactions as simple chemical reactions, but research shows there is more going on, that there seems to be a conscious plan at work," said Marina Robertson, executive director for the Pettit Preserve. "For instance, researchers have treated trees with radioactive isotopes that allow them to trace the products of metabolism from individual trees into the ecosystem. This research shows trees don’t just share resources with the nearest tree. They might skip over many closer ones to provide help to an ailing tree much farther away.

“And when trees die, they ‘will’ their resources to certain trees, skipping over nearby ones or focusing more resources on a particular tree — even if it is not of the same species. This is obviously a fascinating concept that opens up a whole new way to look at the forest. Native Americans have called trees ‘The Standing Peoples’ and it turns out this might be as accurate as it is poetic.”

During March 9’s program, patrons also are invited to partake in self-led hikes. Free to preserve members, the Explore Nature Saturday offering will cost $3 per person, with a maximum $10 fee for each family.

“I think it will be pretty hard to look at trees in the same way after this program,” Robertson said. “Plants in general and trees in particular are far more complex and even more attuned to their surroundings than we previously thought.

“Trees that make decisions and mediate relationships is a pretty mind-blowing idea. We hope programs like this will increase appreciation of nature and encourage folks to want to learn more about the natural world around them.”

Along with the venue's website, more information can be obtained about the Pettit Environmental Preserve and its program by contacting Robertson at director@pettitpreserve.org or 678-848-4179.