CO-Horts

CO-Horts

Monday, March 4, 2013

Crooked Aspen Mystery -- Posted by Irene Shonle



Hiking around Kebler Pass in the fall is a feast for the senses -- I was reveling in all the brilliant gold in the leaves of the aspen, intoxicated by the beautiful day.  So I was a bit suspicious of my state of mind when  I came across this curious stand of aspen (luckily, I took photographic proof):


All of the trees in one particular grove had a pronounced crook at the base.  As I looked around, all the crooked trees seemed to belong to the same clone (aspen form large stands (clones) of trees that have the same genotype; they are connected underground by their rhizomes).
What the heck was going on?
 I looked further afield to notice that the clone just on the other side of the trail (in the background of the picture above)  was your standard straight-arrow aspen. So, it seemed unlikely that it was the soil.   I looked around a little more carefully, and noticed that aspen of different ages within the clone all had the same curious bend, so I could rule out a one-time area-wide event.  Plus, we were miles from any road.

 Beyond that, I had no idea what was going on.  I had never seen such a thing.

When I returned home, I emailed the pictures to a variety of people, but no one had seen it before.

My curiousity piqued, I turned to the internet and found this interesting page on a famous stand of crooked aspen in Canada:

In their grove of even-more-crooked aspen, while no one knows for sure what's going on, they found that the crooked trait still held  even when the plant material was propagated  in a lab or in a field.  This indicates a genetic mutation. There is some evidence that lack of strength of the shoots at critical times during the growing season may be involved.

Their trees are "bent" in a different kind of way so it's not clear that the mechanism is the same in both clones, but I bet that if I were to propagate the Kebler pass clone, I would find there is a genetic mutation at play here as well.  Anyone looking for a good research project?


4 comments:

  1. Maybe the trees wanted to create built-in "chairs" for hikers like yourself! That is so fascinating...

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  2. The heck with research, think marketing. Clone it anyway. You might have found the next Harry Lauder's Walking Stick, or Camperdown elm.

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  3. Hmmm - combining the two comments above, perhaps it could be marketed as Harry Lauder's chair?

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  4. Hey I hope your still looking back at this page once in a while for possible suggestions, maybe a case of permafrost survivors (drunken trees that were used to the abuse), or even the aspens reacting to climate change.

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