Grove of Aspen Trees
[ Nature Lovers ][ Reforestation ]

Spotlight: Awesome Aspens and Their Underground Web.

Photo by Peng Chen on Unsplash

The Clones of the Forests 

Since we’re all about saving forest here at Dancing Tree Gifts I thought it only appropriate that we spotlight these wonderful oxygen giving flora. 

Here are Five Fun Facts about “Quaking” Aspens courtesy of our friends at the National Forest Foundation. 

1. Aspens are clones.

That’s right, bring on the clones! 

Aspens have an extensive root system that is considered to be the main organism. Each tree is a clone of the first. The roots don’t just nourish the trees but the trees nourish the roots, allowing for more clones to sprout. 

This creates a very hardy organism. They tend to grow on the edge of conifer forests, and will even grow in areas that have been recently devastated by fire. And once a clone is well established, it’s there to stay. 

Sounds like a clone invasion. But much more subtle than anything you’ve seen on tv. It takes time and the right conditions for a clone of Aspen to grow and spread. 

Speaking of a clone spread…

2. The most widespread tree in North America

I know what you’re thinking, wide spread, but we don’t have them where I live. 

You may be right but they still hold the title as they can be found in the Midwest, up through Canada, into parts of Alaska, in the west down through Arizona and New Mexico. 

No other tree has that kind of spread (that we know of, and we know of a lot). Chances are if you live in one of the above areas you are familiar with the rushing sound as their leaves “quake” in the breeze.  

3. Dormant, not dead. 

Remember that root system I mentioned? Before a single tree shoots to the sky the conditions have to be right, and if the conditions aren’t right the roots can lay dormant for years. 

That’s a pretty awesome survival skill if you ask me. 

Then when the conditions are just right: moist soil or a nearby spring, and lots of sunshine being the two main ones. The roots will awaken and start pushing up it’s clones.

Once that happens the roots are able to spread, expanding as far as it is able. 

4. Aspens grow all the time.

Like other conifers Aspen leaves turn a different color in the fall. Mostly a dazzling orange and yellow, and eventually fall off. The trees apparently lay dormant until spring in which they put out new leaves and the quaking part of the Quaking Aspen, starts again. 

But unlike other conifers they aren’t truly dormant and can grow in the winter. Thanks to an awesome green layer just under the bark, these trees can store sugar and photosynthesise during the winter. 

But they aren’t the only ones needing sugar, many animals will eat aspen bark to stay alive and healthy. Some only eat it in the winter, like deer or elk, others moose, bear, grouse and rodents will nibble at the sugary bark layer year round. But don’t worry, aspen isn’t the first go to food for any of the forest animals, it’s just part of their diet. 

5. The Oldest (and Largest) Organism: 

We all know about old trees. 

The mighty Giant Sequoias have one that is over 3,200 years. 

Or perhaps you’ve heard of the Bristlecone Pine, one of which is nicknamed the Methuselah Tree with an age of 4,851. 

Now those are some old trees. They are mighty and beautiful! But not the oldest living tree organism. 

I invite you to visit Utah’s Fishlake National forest where the oldest known clone resides.

This grand stand of trees may look unimpressive, or like many other clone of aspens, at least at first glance. But it’s a whopping 80,000 years old, and it has a name, Pando meaning “I spread.” 

Some of the trees are around 130 years old, but it’s the root system that is the main organism remember, and it’s been around since the end of the last ice age. Growing from a single seed into Pando. 

It’s also considered the largest living organism spreading over 130 acres, which is really what earned Pando it’s name. Not only is it an old clone but it’s massive. In fact a highway cuts through this clone and people drive by never knowing where they are, other’s though, have traveled from around the world to experience Pando. 

Pando has had some lack of regeneration in recent years due to insect infestation and over grazing by ungulates. But don’t you fret. Our friends at the NFF and Fishlake National forest are working to help stimulate the roots. Click here to head to Fishlake National Forest website to learn more about Pando.

Oldest, Largest, and most widespread. When it comes to holding titles, Aspens are a triple treat. 

Growing up in the rocky mountains I have always loved Aspens. I love the way they look, the sound of the wind quaking through their leaves, and the colors those leave turn in the fall. All the observable parts of these trees. But after researching them for you guys, I have an even greater respect and love for them. 

And it looks like I’ll be taking a trip to go see Pando. 

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About Author

Jenn Gaskin

After more than a decade in education I decided to turn my copious skills to writing. I have been freelance writing for Dancing Tree Gifts (formerly Sonora Kay Creations) since 2019. I wear many hats with DTG primarily copy editor, author, and web design.