This fascinating and enchanting tree has many attributes and will readily oblige those who are looking to quickly colonize large areas. The common name refers to its firm, rounded leaves that shimmer or quake in light breezes (inspiring its common name), creating a pleasant sound and a stunning sight in fall when the foliage turns a rich golden yellow. It grows 50’ tall in a wide range of conditions and has the most extensive range of any native tree on the continent. Its massive root system, which can be one to 20 acres, sends up sprouts that form a “clone” in which all of the trees are genetically identical and connected. Pando Clone in Utah, AKA the trembling giant, is a colony of male quaking aspens that is considered to be the largest living organism on earth at 8,000 years old and covering an area the size of 80 football fields! As a member of the willow family, quaking aspen hosts a large number of lepidoptera and attracts many pollinators and birds. Its distinctive, whitish bark is unique in that it is able to photosynthesize and produce sugar throughout winter. Aspen is a valuable pioneer species for successional growth in burnt areas. It grows from both seeds and suckers, and one tree may quickly result in many volunteer trees.
Grows in mostly sun and a wide variety of soils throughout the continent and abundantly in northern Ohio. Well suited for large areas in combination with boulders, ferns, and wildflowers. Avoid planting within 10 feet of above-ground and below-ground structures or near water lines and septic tanks. Weed and mulch around the tree to boost growth. Wonderful for enriching soil and preventing erosion.
Grows 40-50’ with a spread of 20-30’. Fast growing, it reaches maturity in just 15-20 years.
Prefers full sun but does well with at least 4 hours; intolerant of full shade.
Prefers very moist, well-drained, acidic, loamy, sandy, gravelly, and clay soils. Intolerant of drought.
Long, silvery catkins emerge before leaves in April and May. Cottony tufts of seeds are wind dispersed in late spring.
Rounded, finely serrated leaves have dark green surfaces and pale green undersides. The stem is flattened and results in rapid fluttering motion.
Long, narrow trunk has smooth bark that fissures with age and varies in color from greenish white to yellowish gray to nearly white.
Host plant for 287 species of Lepidoptera, including the eastern tiger swallowtail and viceroy butterflies, and the promethea silk moth (all pictured here). Numerous other insects also benefit from quaking aspen. The leaves, buds and twigs are eaten by rabbits and deer throughout the year, and grouse depend on the winter buds and nesting habitat aspens provide. The wood is used extensively by beavers for food and building material.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
The inner bark has numerous healing properties: antiscorbutic, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, febrifuge, purgative, and vermifuge, and can be used as a poultice for sore eyes. The bark contains salicin and populin, which were used in the past to make aspirin. The inner bark contains a quinine- like substance, which is why it was thought to have been used for intermittent fever, a classical symptom of malaria. A poultice made from the roots can be used for cuts, wounds, bruises, and joint pain. The leaf buds have been used for treating coughs and colds.
The inner bark can be eaten raw or cooked, and can be dried or boiled and added to flour for baked goods. The sap can be collected and used as a sweet beverage, or boiled down to make syrup. The leaves are an edible, though bitter, protein source. A light powdery yeasty substance forms on the bark and can be used in baking bread.
Historically, the inner bark was used for making ropes, the long shoots for building wigwams, smaller shoots for basketry, and the downy seeds for stuffing pillows. The distilled wood was used to make fuel oil, charcoal, ammonia, methanol, and alcohol. The wood is not good for fuel as it dries slowly and rots quickly, though because it is odorless and tasteless, it is used to make tongue depressors, chopsticks, tooth picks, and ice cream sticks.
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