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.
Interesting Facts About Aspen Trees
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.
Cultural Significance of Aspen Trees
The aspen has different names in different cultures. In some Native American cultures, the aspen tree is known for its healing benefits, and 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.
Why Aspen Trees are Iconic in Steamboat Springs
Aspens thrive in the Yampa River Valley, just west of the Continental Divide and Rabbit Ears Pass, and the brilliant colors make Steamboat Springs one of the best places in the state to view fall foliage. Residents love the mass of yellow and gold that floods over the town for many reasons, and visitors flock to the area to enjoy the colors along with the last of summer activities. Much like the fall foliage tours in New England, the annual display of colors produced by the towering aspens on the mountain slopes is an iconic element of the culture of Steamboat Springs.
Peak viewing season can vary from mid-September to mid-October, depending on rainfall and fall temperatures. If you're traveling primarily to view the autumn colors, you'll want to keep a close eye on local weather to time your visit right.
Ecological Impact of Aspen Trees
"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 tree or hear the soothing rustling of leaves, remember how unique the aspen is.