Populus tremuloides

Quaking Aspen, Populus tremuloides
Railroad Canyon Campground to Holden Prong Saddle
Black Range, Grant County, New Mexico, USA
Immediately Above and Below - October 13, 2017

Although I know better now, there was a time when the Quaking Aspen, Populus tremuloides, was the last thing on my mind when I thought about the flora of southern New Mexico.  Yucca, Agave, Apache Plum, Cholla... sure, but Quaking Aspen?  The beautiful stands typical of the high Rockies, no, probably not.

When the Silver Fire raged through the Black Range the question in our household was, “did it get the Aspen?” followed by a fatalistic “Well, they are supposed to come back well following a fire.”

Well the Silver Fire “got” a lot of the Aspen, but not all of them and where it did burn the Aspen badly new saplings are growing quickly.  Considering what happened, the Aspen came through the Silver Fire quite well in many (but not all) areas.

Quaking Aspen spread from their roots, many of the stands which we see in the Black Range are actually clonal colonies.  A partially burned grove may be more like amputation than death.  That method of reproduction may be the reason that Quaking Aspen do so well in the aftermath of a fire, the suckers come back from the roots.  In fact, although Aspen produce seed, that is not how they generally reproduce, the seeds do not have much in the way of energy stores.  Since each stand, and stands can cover large areas, is generally one individual - and therefore, either male or female - sexual reproduction is more difficult.

Many of the Aspen groves in the Black Range were (are) made up of trees of similar diameter.  That probably is the result of a fire sometimes in the past, perhaps more devastating than the Silver Fire.

The characteristic flutter of Quaking Aspen leaves in the wind is caused by the way the leaf is attached to the tree, the petiole (stalk) of the leaf is flattened.  And those wonderful “eyes” along the trunk are places where branches were once attached.

Populus tremuloides has never been known by another scientific name but its common name can cause some confusion.  In addition to Quaking Aspen, it is also known the American Aspen, the Golden Aspen, Trembling Poplar....  Populus tremula, which is found in Europe, is also called Quaking Aspen (tremuloides means “similiar to tremula”).

The Quaking Aspen is a tree of North America, being found in most of Canada (limited only by the permafrost of the far north), parts of the north in the eastern United States, and in the high mountains of the western United States and Mexico.

The biggest danger the Aspens of the Black Range face at the moment is cattle grazing.  There is little else for the cattle to graze on since the forest has not had time to regenerate since the fire.  All of this, of course, increasing the chances of flooding in the low-lands.


Immediately Above and Below
Below Hillsboro Peak Black Range, NM
May 25, 2015

Trail 79 McKnight Cabin to McKnight Mountain
Immediately above and below

The Spring Site at McKnight Cabin Black Range New Mexico, USA



© Robert Barnes 2018