Despite the wide variety of habitats where it is found, aspen does not tolerate wetland areas nor will it grow in the shade.
The trembling or quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) has the widest geographical distribution of any tree in North America. This tree is found throughout Canada, Alaska and most of the United States, including Maryland, and down to central Mexico. Like most widely distributed trees, trembling aspen is a generalist, being found in a variety of ecological communities such as western mountains, northern boreal forests, streamside riparian forests and most everything in between.
Despite the wide variety of habitats where it is found, aspen does not tolerate wetland areas nor will it grow in the shade. This species is considered very shade-intolerant and is classified as a "pioneer" tree species, meaning that it needs direct sunlight to prosper and it is one of the first trees to colonize areas after fires, logging or any other site disturbance.
Aspen has a light, cottony-textured wind-dispersed seed that develops in late summer. Aspen also spreads from root sprouts, and this is the primary way this tree disperses, especially in the West where very large and dense clonal colonies develop. These colonies may persist for hundreds of years, as long as periodic disturbances such as fires or cutting occurs to reinvigorate the individual trees. Aspens are a fast- and straight-growing tree with light wood that is not very strong.
Trembling aspens get their name from their leaves that shake or tremble in the wind. Aspen have bright golden autumn foliage that is very distinct, especially where they grow in conjunction with conifers. Aspen stands are considered good firebreaks since they do not accumulate much fuel and tend to weaken high-energy crown fires in evergreen stands when the conflagration reaches the aspen groves.
The wood of aspen is light and prone to rot, so it is used mostly for interior fiberboard or paper. Native Americans dried aspen bark and made it into a paste that was used for food. Many animals eat young aspen shoots, especially deer, bear and elk. The winter buds of this tree are a good source of nutrition for grouse and woodcock and aspen thickets are managed by periodic clear cutting by wildlife managers.
Article by FCFCDB
Nature Notes for 1/13/2013