Depending on your perspective, aspen trees are pulpwood, weeds, or trees at add beauty and character to canoe country. There are three species here, the most common being Populus tremuloides, or quaking aspen, also called popple in the local vernacular.
The petioles (stems that connect the leaves to a branch) have an unusual twist that makes the leaves flutter with the lightest breeze, creating the characteristic rustle. Aspen coloration is dramatic — a brilliant chartreuse in early May, a glowing gold in fall. In summer leaves are dark green on top with pale green underneath, which, in the wind, creates a look associated with an oncoming storm. The bark of young trees contains chlorophyll, making it green and giving the tree the advantage of photosynthesizing through the winter. Fast-growing, aspen outcompetes most other vegetation and so can take over a disturbed area rapidly. Wildlife, including bears and grouse, take advantage of the early spring buds as a nutritious food source for winter.
Individual trees live 50-150 years, but aspen tree colonies, called clones, may be the longest-lived organism on the planet. All the trees in a clone are the same organism, sprouting from a single root system. Clones may be 5-10,000 years old. A clone in Utah has 47,000 trees, covers 100 acres, and weighs 6,000 tons. It is considered the largest living thing on earth. Trees belonging to the same clone can be recognized because the bark and leaves all look the same and the leaves all change color at the same time.