Quaking aspen trees (Populus tremuloides
), with their shimmering golden fall leaves, are one of my favorite trees. I grew up in Bishop, California, on the eastern side of the Sierra, where they grow abundantly in canyons above 8,000 feet including Bishop Creek and Rock Creek. However, we are very fortunate to have them growing on the western side of the Sierra as well. They can be found up along the Great Western Divide Highway in the Giant Sequoia National Monument. The best times to view the fall colors are generally after the first frost in late September or early October.
Quaking aspen have a wider range than any other North American tree. They grow from Alaska and Newfoundland south to central Mexico. They love cold weather and are thus found at higher elevations and in northern latitudes.
An aspen grove looks as if it is made up of separate trees, but the trees usually share a root system. Essentially, they are one organism with many roots, an organism that can grow to huge proportions, cross a meadow or climb a mountain. There is a 106-acre stand of aspens south of Salt Lake City, Utah, that contends with the General Sherman giant sequoia tree to be the largest living organism on earth. Visitors to this stand may think they are hiking through an aspen forest, but it is all one tree, about 47,000 genetically identical stems rising from a common root system.
is the genus name, which will remind some of poplars. Poplar trees, cottonwood trees, willows, and aspen are all in the same botanical family, Salicaceae. Salicaceae will remind perhaps the more inquisitive of salicylic acid, or another derivative of this chemical, acetyl salicylic acid, a.k.a. asprin. Salicylic acid can be derived from willow bark and willow bark tea is one of the oldest natural remedies for our everyday aches and pains.
comes from the Latin word tremulus meaning trembling or quaking. Look closely at one of the leaf stalks and you will see it is flattened and thus allows the leaf to quake in a breeze and create a rustling noise. There is nothing nicer than walking through an aspen grove on a beautiful autumn day and seeing the leaves shimmer and hearing their voices.
The golden leaves contrast wonderfully with their whitish gray bark. Aspens are usually around 20-50 feet high with a spread of 10-30 feet. They typically live to be 80 to 100 years old.
Quaking aspens are quick to spread into disturbed areas, such as areas devastated by fire or an avalanche. Many animals depend on aspen groves; some eat the twigs and bark including beaver, elk, and deer. Many birds such as Mountain Chickadees, Violet Green Swallows, and Red-breasted Nuthatches use aspens as a nesting site, some building on branches, some making cavities in the trees' trunks.
Please feel free to add your own photos of quaking aspen trees here!