Aspen is the most widely distributed tree species in North America ranging from Alaska to Newfoundland and down the Rocky Mountains to Mexico. Interestingly, Utah and Colorado is home to the largest portion of natural acreage of aspen in the World. This "keystone" tree species, if removed from that broad range would cause immediate and overwhelming negative changes to the forest community. It is an important tree.
A member of the willow family, aspen has a chalky-white bark and the most wind-active leaf of any broadleaf species. Wind-blown leaves have been described as "showing a continuous shaking". Aspen hates shade and compact soil, loves to sprout from clumps, can host a ton of insects and diseases and lives only a very short 15 years if under the lightest stress in urban settings.
Naturally regenerated aspens growing in their native habitat are the ultimate wild landscape survivors. They regenerate from clones, not seeds, in most cases. These clonal root systems seem to be ageless and one Minnesota root mass has been aged at over 8,000 years.
These natural aspens are among the first trees, called "pioneers" that spring up after a destructive force (usually fire) opens up the forest. They cover the open sun-lit area and provide cover for shade-loving maples and conifers to follow. Pure aspen stands form a park-like strip of beauty that transitions between prairie and boreal forest regions throughout the western states.
Colorado Aspens - Photo by Jim Zornes