The Aspen is my favorite tree and I recently had the pleasure of spending some time with the two largest Aspens I have ever seen. I’ve spent my entire life in the mountains of Colorado, so I’ve seen a lot of Aspen trees. These were magnificent and dwarfed our Jeep, not something the average size Aspen does. It was a calm, warm evening: perfect to listening to the trees whisper in the soft quaking of leaves the species is famous for.
The Latin name for Aspen is Populus tremuloides. Tremuloides means trembling, and tremble they do. They’re known as Quaking Aspen or Quakies for good reason. The slightest breeze set them to quaking, creating music all their own. The flat stems, turned at right angles with the leaf blades, allow the leaves to quake.
They commonly reach 80 feet in height and 18 inches diameter, but larger specimens are occasionally found. The bark of these old ones is rough, fissured, and darkened with age. Aspen rarely live more than 150 to 200 years and these must be close to that mark.
Aspen are dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate trees, however root sprouts are their most successful method of reproduction. Shoots sprout along a parent tree’s lateral roots. The result is an aggregate of genetically identical trees called a “clone.” All the trees in the clone share a root structure. They can often be distinguished from neighboring clones by leaf shape and size, variations in bark and branch formation, sex, and autumn leaf color. I can’t help but wonder how many little clones there are of these two giants.
The quaking of Aspen leaves and the spicy scent of the leaf litter at their roots is a balm to the soul. I’ll be visiting these trees again in the fall when they turn to gold and yellow–an iconic symbol of the American West.