In awe of the quaking aspen.

A beautiful aspen stand down the street from us in Keystone.

It’s hard not to fall in love with an aspen. A man working at the thrift store in Frisco told me that aspens are the only deciduous trees that grow at the high elevations in much of Summit County, Colorado.

Quaking aspens, also called trembling aspens, are named for their leaves. Flat, heart-shaped leaves attach to branches with lengthy stalks called petioles, which quake or tremble in light breezes. Quaking aspens regularly grow in dense, pure stands, creating a stunning golden vista when their leaves change color in the fall.

A face smiles back at me and Max from the bark.

Aspen are often identified by their silvery, white bark. But this bark is spectacular on many levels- it carries out photosynthesis, a task usually reserved for tree leaves. In winter, when other deciduous trees are mostly dormant, quaking aspens are able to keep producing sugar for energy.

Thanks to the way in which organic leaf matter becomes richer soil, some of the most beautiful wildflowers can be found underneath the aspen trees in the spring and summer. Deer, moose, and elk seek shade from aspen groves in summer. These same animals consume bark, leaves, buds, and twigs of quaking aspen throughout the year. Ruffed grouse is especially dependent on quaking aspen for food and nesting habitat.

People use quaking aspen for fuel and to make paper, particle board, furniture, and hamster bedding.

A few leaves left frozen like candies on a aspen sapling.

The stunning aspen is not in any danger these days- not unless you count the likes of the pocket gopher, which feed on roots and seem to be one of the few creatures able to curtail the growth of aspen groves. The other major inhibitor of aspen growth is fire suppression. Quaking aspens require intense sunlight to grow, but when other trees spring up in the forest, aspen stems are shaded out. Fire reduces canopy cover and allows for the continued growth of quaking aspens. While the root system will survive with little care, proper management of the stems aboveground is important, since both people and wildlife make use of the trees.

Quaking Aspen Notebook Page (PDF)

More to chase:

Quaking aspen plant guide (USDA)
Quaking aspen handbook page (NDSU Agriculture)
Quaking aspen forests of the Colorado Plateau (Land Use History of North America)

Comments are closed.