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The world’s largest tree is being eaten alive

Located in the Wasatch Mountains on Utah Route 25 lives a stand of quaking aspens, Utah’s state tree. Nicknamed Pando (Latin for “I spread”), it’s a grove of individual male quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) — a single organism with identical genetic markers and, it’s assumed, a massive underground root system.

The colony has called the Fishlake National Forest home for around 14,000 years. That makes it one of the oldest living organisms on Earth. With an estimated 47,000 trees spreading over 106 acres, Pando weighs in at approximately 13 million pounds, earning it the “world’s largest organism by weight” title. 

Why is Pando’s survival threatened?

To answer that we need to know how Pando became so large. Aspen groves multiply by sending out roots that run horizontally. These eventually send up sprouts for new trees. The new trees, in turn, send out individual roots that sprout as well, and so on. The trunks die individually and are replaced by new stems growing from their roots. 

These small new trees produce tender leaves, and therein lies the problem. The mule deer that inhabit the area love to munch on those tender leaves and shoots. This nibbling kills the new sprouts, preventing them from spreading out new roots.

What does the future hold?

That is the question for Friends of Pando. This volunteer, not-for-profit organization founded in 2019 provides support and education to preserve this truly natural resource. The year 2022 will bring several programs to save Pando. The group will hire a full-time agent to tend to the tree’s life. 

A string of trail monitoring stations will track human activity. With more than 300,000 visitors annually, Friends will collect impact data on usage.

Are the deer the only threat to Pando? 

No. Even with the deer population controlled, other issues threaten Pando. Because they are so closely linked, all are susceptible to the same viruses, bacteria, and fungi. If one gets it, all are at risk. 

Also, Aspens need fire to control the growth of the area’s pine. Left to grow, the ponderosa pine can overshadow the young sprouts. Aspens are intolerant to shade and will die out without plenty of sunshine. 

Lastly, the development of the area brought in two marinas, lodging units, restaurants, campgrounds, and needed infrastructure. Fish Lake, the largest natural mountain lake in Utah, offers trophy fishing, bird watching, hiking and biking. Like you, I enjoy all of these activities that attract me to the outdoors. I certainly do not wish them to go away.

What can you do? 

Whether or not Pando survives for another 14,000 years depends on conservation efforts. If you plan on visiting the Pando, you can contribute to its preservation in any number of ways. Contact the Friends for information.

For an in-depth review of Pando, visit my essay at WadeVillage.

##RVT1036

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BILLY Bob Thronton
4 months ago

Ok, 14,000 years and counting. 1st. Q, since there are no 14,000 yr old aspens in this stand, who dated it that long, and how do they get to that age?. Up the doe permits in the area, do a controlled cutting of the evergreen encroachment and stop picking on Man is the bad guy, it gets old.

Everytime something goes bonkers with the enviroment, its mans fault. Its almost predictable when you see a headline about how nature is in jeprody, man is the evil villain. Just like the glaciers would be gone in Glacier NP by now, another lie. Psst…they had to take the warning signs down in the park!

Scott R. Ellis
4 months ago

Aspen are not *supposed* to last forever. No, too many deer happily munching away in the absence of predators isn’t cool. But their being “crowded” out by pine forests (“climax vegetation”) in a given habitat? That’s how it works.

Diane McGovern
4 months ago
Reply to  Scott R. Ellis

Totally agree. If humans weren’t around nature would take its course. Who are we to alter the natural order of things?

Admin
RV Staff(@rvstaff)
4 months ago
Reply to  Diane McGovern

BTW, this isn’t the Diane McGovern aka RV Staff. Hi, other Diane! Have a great day. 😀 –Diane

Diane Mc
4 months ago
Reply to  RV Staff

Oops….sorry….forget. I can change my name so you don’t get firebombed for my missives….😂

Admin
RV Staff(@rvstaff)
4 months ago
Reply to  Diane Mc

No problem, Diane! I just have to look twice to make sure I didn’t write it. It always catches me off-guard to see my name, because my comments usually show up under “RV Staff.” 😆 (But I agree with your statement. I have 18 acres of gorgeous, unimproved mountain property. I have an old cartoon with the character standing in the woods saying “Mom! I’m home!” – obviously talking to Mother Nature.) Have a good night, Diane. (I feel like I’m talkng to myself!) 😀 –Diane

Bob p
4 months ago

Introduce female trees, they will solve all the problems, don’t believe me, ask my wife. Lol

BILLY Bob Thronton
4 months ago
Reply to  Bob p

Dude, that was excellent. Put a bunch of guys together in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, with cigars, booze hunting gear and coffee, and will never leave!