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?