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?


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

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

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

  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.