Aspens (Populus tremuloides) grow from Alaska to Mexico and from west coast to east coast. They have flat leaf stems (petioles ) that catch the slightest breeze. This causes the paper-thin leaves to “tremble”. These trees are well connected. Their roots sprout identical copies thus spreading the ‘family tree’ to become one of the largest organisms on earth.
When you look over a forest, notice trees that turn the same shade of fall color – they are brothers or sisters. These identical clones are the same sex as the original parent tree. You can tell if they are male or female by their different catkins (downy flowering seeds) in the spring. Also, take a close look at the trunk. The white powder is a natural sunscreen that protects the thin bark from sunburn.
Aspens are a keystone species – they support a complex web of plant and animal life in these forests. The open canopy creates a multi-story kingdom, like a high-rise building, that allows plants and animals to share space. The tree is food for many – elk eat the bark in winter, and bears climb the trees to feed on buds, catkins, and leaves in spring. Look for elk tooth and bear claw scars on tree trunks as you wander through the forest.