Enchanting aspens

Sep 18, 2017
Many aspen trees call the meadows of Whychus Canyon Preserve home. Learn why these trees are considered to be some of the oldest living organisms on the planet.

"Go spend time with the aspen trees. They'll tell you how it works. They'll tell you to look to your roots for energy. They'll tell you there's warmth below the surface." - Kaya McLaren.

Golden aspens. Photo: Tom Davis.
Golden aspens. Photo: Tom Davis.
Spending time with aspen trees is enchanting, especially in the fall. Pigments hidden by chlorophyll during the summer begin to have their day in the sun as the days shorten. Beautiful golden yellow leaves quake as the wind blows and the sun shines through their canopies. What a transformation!

Aspens, while revered for their beautiful fall foliage, are also considered to be one of the oldest living organisms on the planet. The oldest aspen stand in the world is estimated to be more than 80,000 year old! “Pando,” or “The Trembling Giant,” as it has been named, spreads across 106 acres in central Utah. Of course no living individual tree within Pando is 80,000 years old, but the root system of the organism is what gives the tree it's longevity.

Aspen trees are a clonal species, meaning individual trees within an aspen stand share identical genes. A stand is essentially one tree that is connected through it's giant root structure. Healthy aspen stands regenerate and can thrive after disturbance, sending up new shoots from their far-reaching root systems. We sometimes call these shoots “suckers.” They may look like individual trees, but they are all connected underground.

We are fortunate to have aspens stands in Central Oregon that dot our forests and line our creeks and rivers with beautiful yellow throughout the fall. On our side of the Cascade crest, aspen trees tend to congregate where there is water; in gullies and valleys, where the water table is high, or along creeks and streams.

Aspen trees can be found at many Land Trust Preserves, and are incredibly valuable to wildlife. Aspens shade water and make it cooler for fish. They also provide protective cover and food for elk and deer during fawning and calving season, and offer homes to cavity nesting birds and bats. The Land Trust actively works to restore and return aspen to our protected lands.

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