top of page

Mapping the 'Invisible' Lives of Trees

How do you make the ‘invisible’ lives of trees visible?


Preserving the wood wide web is vital for the well-being of forests. Fungal networks help regulate the resources in a forest and maintain the health of trees (Wohlleben, 2017, p. 4). These networks of fungi are also carbon sinks, so preserving them plays an important factor in fighting climate change (SPUN, n.d.). As the wood wide web is a subterranean network of tiny threads, it can be hard to visualise and understand. I gave a workshop on the Buitenplaats Brienenoord, where together with a group of people I created a map of the forest floor, a visual wood wide web.

Wood Wide Web

Wood Wide Web

Trees belong to a vast interdependent community that engages in collaboration, communication and kinship (Simard, 2021, p.5)Trees share nutrients, water and carbon through their roots to neighbouring trees, such as when a tree falls ill. When a tree gets threatened, they send out chemical signals to warn neighbouring trees. The oldest trees in forests, called mother trees, can recognise and care for kin (Simard, 2021, p.5). These mother trees shelter and nurture the youngest trees in the forest, so they grow strong and tall (Wohlleben, 2017, p.33). The mycorrhizal network that connects trees is called mycelium and can extend over great distances (Wohlleben, 2017, p. 10). If you go for a stroll in a forest, you might spot mycelium: tiny white threads in the soil or on fallen leaves and sticks. The networks of hyphae, the fungal threads, resemble spider webs or woven threads (Sheldrake, 2020, p. 7). 


First, we chose a piece of the forest on the Brienenoordeiland with an interesting variety of trees to map. Everyone picked a tree they would recreate and studied it by looking at the size of the trunk, the surfaced roots and the crown. From this we speculated how all trees were connected through their roots and might collaborate. We drew the positions of our trees and the distance in steps between them on paper.

Next, we collected fallen branches from the forest and carried them to the grass field. There we marked the positions of the trees with piles of mulch. This required some puzzling and clear communication among us, but the paper maps helped translate the forest map to the grass field. We placed the branches pointing outwards from the piles. All branches, i.e. trees, needed to be interconnected. They formed a geometric shape of branch roads, spanning the whole field.




Like spiders , everyone started spinning a web with yarn, connecting all trees. The map really started to take shape. Each person had a different technique, some aiming to make the lines as long as possible and others working meticulously to form small woven shapes between branches.


Finally, I took a photo of everyone standing in the spot of the tree, with their arms in the air to impersonate the branches of trees. Together they formed a human forest. Just like fungi keep trees connected and strong underground, collaborative artmaking bonded us overground. By mapping and visualising these hidden networks, the participants gained a deeper appreciation and understanding of the importance of the preservation of these vital ecosystems.


Mapping the 'Invisible' Lives of Trees, Buitenplaats, March 2023


Flannery, Tim, and Peter Wohlleben. The Hidden Life of Trees. 2017,


Simard, S. Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest. First edition. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2021.



Royalty-free Stockfoto’s, Illustraties, Vectorkunst En Videoclips - Getty Images.

bottom of page