Every year about this time, Fall is ushered in by a flush of Aspen trees as their leaves turn to gold. Where I live in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the particular aspen is called the “trembling” or quaking aspen. The broadleaf and flattened stem cause them to flutter in the breeze. It is a type of poplar tree called populus tremuloides. As tourists visit New England in Autumn for Leaves and Lobsters, visitors come to Colorado to Leaf Peep as the aspens change to dramatic yellows, golds, and reds.
Aspens: Send in the Clones
In the Roots of Aspens
An aspen tree may die, but the root system remains intact, sending up replacements nearby. In this way, a grove may survive a large forest fire and is very hardy. The trees themselves are subject to a variety of diseases and insects. They rarely last more than 25-40 years in urban settings, and half a dozen have died on my property while I’ve lived there for over three decades. However, in forests at higher elevations, they may live almost ten times that length, and the root system may live longer still.
Many colonies grow larger from year to year, spreading over acres of land. In Utah, the oldest known colony, named Pando (“I spread”), is reported to be thousands of years old. Fishlake National Forest, on the western side of the Rocky Mountains, has one of the largest organisms in the world in terms of both volume and mass, measuring 107 acres and 6,000 tons.
For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. -Isaiah 55:12
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian