Aspen Explained

Aspen is a common name for certain tree species, some, but not all, of those that are classified by botanists in the section Populus, of the poplar genus.[1]

The English name Waverly, meaning "quaking aspen," is both a surname and a unisex given name.

Species

The following species are called aspens:

Chinese aspen (China, south of P. tremula)

Bigtooth aspen (eastern North America, south of P. tremuloides)

Japanese aspen (Japan)

Eurasian aspen (northern Europe & Asia)

American aspen (northern & western North America)

Habitat and longevity

The aspens are all native to cold regions with cool summers, in the north of the Northern Hemisphere, extending south at high altitudes in the mountains. They are all medium-sized deciduous trees reaching 15– tall.

All of the aspens typically grow in large clonal colonies derived from a single seedling, and spreading by means of root suckers; new stems in the colony may appear at up to 30– metres from the parent tree. Each individual tree can live for 40–150 years above ground, but the root system of the colony is long-lived. In some cases, this is for thousands of years, sending up new trunks as the older trunks die off above ground. For this reason it is considered to be an indicator of ancient woodlands. One such colony in Utah, given the nickname of "Pando", is estimated to be 80,000 years old, making it possibly the oldest living colony of aspens. Some aspen colonies become very large with time, spreading about 1m (03feet) per year, eventually covering many hectares. They are able to survive forest fires, because the roots are below the heat of the fire, with new sprouts growing after the fire burns out.

Aspens do not thrive very well in the shade, and it is difficult for aspen seedlings to grow in an already mature aspen stand. Fire indirectly benefits aspen trees, since it allows the saplings to flourish in open sunlight in the burned landscape. Lately, aspens have an increased popularity in forestry, mostly because of their fast growth rate and ability to regenerate from sprouts, making the reforestation after harvesting much cheaper, since no planting or sowing is required.

In contrast with many trees, aspen bark is base-rich, meaning that aspens are important hosts for bryophytes[2] and act as food plants for the larvae of butterfly (Lepidoptera) species—see List of Lepidoptera that feed on poplars.

Young aspen bark is an important seasonal forage for the european hare and other animals in early spring. Aspen is also a tree of choice of the european beaver.

Uses

Aspen wood is white and soft, but fairly strong, and has low flammability. It has a number of uses, notably for making matches and paper where its low flammability makes it safer to use than most other woods. Shredded aspen wood is used for packing and stuffing, sometimes called excelsior (wood wool). It is also a popular animal bedding, since it lacks the phenols associated with pine and juniper, which are thought to cause respiratory system ailments in some animals. Heat-treated aspen is a popular material for the interiors of a sauna. While standing trees sometimes tend to rot from the heart outward, the dry timber weathers very well, becoming silvery-grey and resistant to rotting and warping, and has traditionally been used for rural construction in the northwestern regions of Russia (especially for roofing, in the form of thin slats).

Aspens and other members of the Populus genus contain salicylates, compounds related to aspirin. Leaves and leaf buds of aspens have been used to treat burns, irritations, aches, and swollen joints. Bitter herbal tea from bark and leaves has been used to treat mild urinary tract inflammations. The Ojibwe used the inner bark of the trunk as a poultice, and the Cree ate the inner bark in the spring as a mild purgative.[3]

Legends

Aspen has been traditionally reputed in many countries to drive off evil spirits, hence it was often planted near the dwellings. According to an Eastern Slavic apocryphal legend, Judas Iscariot hanged himself on an aspen tree, hence its leaves have been trembling with horror ever since. The species does not grow in the Middle East, so this legend obviously has local syncretic origins.

An aspen stake was believed to be one of the few weapons suitable to kill a vampire or a werewolf. By the same token, a bigger stake could be driven into the grave of a person condemned to damnation, so as to prevent them from rising from the dead.

External links

Notes and References

  1. Web site: technology transfer fact sheet: Populus spp.. Forest Products Laboratory: R&D USDA. United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Madison, Wisconsin. 20 September 2010.
  2. http://www.cairngorms.co.uk/resource/docs/publications/05042007/CNPA.Paper.440.Aspen%20Report.txt The Biodiversity and Management of Aspen woodlands: Proceedings of a one-day conference held in Kingussie, Scotland, on 25th May 2001
  3. Native American ethnobotany, pg. 427-433, Daniel E. Moerman 1998