The Allure of Aspen

written by Elva Manquera, Vesper Meadow Graduate Student Intern 2018-19

Vesper Meadow has many beautiful and mesmerizing features, but one of its most noticeable is the three Aspen stands. These stands line the field with amazing colors throughout the seasons and hundreds of people a year get to enjoy their beauty from the road. I first came to be engulfed by the aspen when I started my beaver research at Vesper. Aspen are a very important food staple for beaver and the bulk of the beaver activity at Vesper can be found at the Aspen stands.

Aspen groves are unique habitat for a variety of wildlife. Initial observations at Vesper Meadow 2018 have included such species as Williamson’s Sapsucker, Lazuli Bunting, Corn Lily, new-born Elk, and sign of Bear and Beaver within the aspen groves.  photo by Crystal Nichols

Aspen groves are unique habitat for a variety of wildlife. Initial observations at Vesper Meadow 2018 have included such species as Williamson’s Sapsucker, Lazuli Bunting, Corn Lily, new-born Elk, and sign of Bear and Beaver within the aspen groves. photo by Crystal Nichols

One of the reasons Aspen are so noticeable is because of their ecological uniqueness from the surrounding pine. Aspen have thin round green leaves that shimmer in the wind and turn a vibrant yellow in the fall. Their bark is a greenish color that turns white with age. The green color in the bark is from chlorophyll, the chlorophyll photosynthesizes all throughout the year providing the Aspen with sugars. This feeds the Aspen during the winter months when they lose their leaves.  These sugars also provide food for local wildlife including black bears, deer, elk, beavers, porcupine and rodents. This means that livestock are attracted to these tasty trees. Without limited access livestock will eat the saplings of the Aspen potentially wiping out a local population due to the lack of replacement.

Quaking aspen,  Populus tremuloides,  is named (in both English and Latin) for the way its leaves flutter in the wind. This is due to the flattened petiole (leaf stem) that catches the breeze. To human knowledge, it seems that this benefits the trees in absorbing sunlight. To human feeling, the quaking leaves seem to provide an instant tranquility to those who stand within their groves.   photo by Crystal Nichols

Quaking aspen, Populus tremuloides, is named (in both English and Latin) for the way its leaves flutter in the wind. This is due to the flattened petiole (leaf stem) that catches the breeze. To human knowledge, it seems that this benefits the trees in absorbing sunlight. To human feeling, the quaking leaves seem to provide an instant tranquility to those who stand within their groves.

photo by Crystal Nichols

Another key feature of the Aspen is their reproduction. Aspen have two ways of reproducing by seed and by root sprouts. Root sprouting is the most common way for Aspen to reproduce. This makes the trees in an Aspen stand genetically identical, because all the trees in a single stand are connected by roots making them a single organism.

Unfortunately, these beautiful trees are in peril. Aspen require moist soil for survival, but with human caused climate change aspen are being impacted by raising climates, drought, emerging insect outbreaks and conifer encroachment. One of things people can do to help protect these trees from disappearing is through controlled burns. Controlled burns can help keep back the encroaching conifers giving the aspen a fighting chance.

photo by Matt Witt Photography

photo by Matt Witt Photography