The Aspen Trees in Steamboat


     Most everyone who has been to Steamboat Springs is familiar with the Aspen tree. The aspen thrives in the Rocky Mountain climate and does well in damp environments. In the summer, when the leaves unfurl, they take on an emerald green quality, brighter at first than they are when they settle into summer. The quaking Aspen is known for the shimmer and shudder of its leaves. On a dry summer day, the wind blowing through them often sounds like rain. In winter, their stark forms reach up, white ghostly sentinels watching over the ski mountain, or clustered in hills and valleys.

     There are a couple of interesting things to note about Aspen trees. The first is they can be male or female. The second is Aspens regenerate by cloning themselves. In stands, clusters are clones of one another. In the fall most Aspens turn yellow before the leaves fall, but in some instances, they turn orange and red. The next time you see a stand of four or five or more trees that are all the same hue, know they are related.

     The Aspen has different names in different cultures. In Native American culture, the Aspen tree is known for it’s healing benefits. The bark was used to treat fevers and reduce headaches. It’s not a coincidence the name Aspen is similar to aspirin. The bark of the aspen also helps induce appetite, can treat burns and is an anti-inflammatory.

     ‘Aspen is a relatively minor component of Rocky Mountain landscapes, typically comprising less than 5% of the forest area (but covering more than 50% in some landscapes). Although aspen forests are a relatively minor component of Rocky Mountain landscapes, they are important for many aspects. Aspen forests have twice the diversity of understory plants, including rare and endemic species, than conifer forests. A wide range of wildlife, from cavity-nesting birds to elk, use or depend upon aspen stands. Aspen plays an important role in the fire regimes of the Rockies; aspen stands provide natural fire breaks that may limit the extent of wildfires. Perhaps the most visible role played by aspen is its scenic beauty,’ reports the US Forest Service.

     The next time you sit under the shade of an aspen, or hear the soothing rustling of leaves, remember how unique the aspen is.

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