Quaking Aspen among our most common trees

Some of you may not recognize the name Quaking Aspen, although you surely would recognize the tree.
Try these names instead: Poplar, Trembling Aspen, Asp, White Poplar, and Aspen Poplar.
These are all common names for the same tree. Its scientific name is Populus tremuloides.
This is one of the four species of poplar which can be found in Northern Ontario. Some of the others are scarce, but this one certainly is not.
This is one of our most common trees. It is found on farms, on rocky outcroppings, and in the woods. It ranges all the way from the Yukon at one end to Labrador at the other.
In parts of the Prairies, it is the only wild native tree.
The tree itself is not large, perhaps 50 feet when mature. There are specimens which are more than 90 feet high and three feet in diameter, but they are not common.
We often see them in thick stands. This is due to their two methods of reproduction—by sees and also by root suckers.
All of the poplars, including this one, have male and female flowers on different trees. They are in long, hanging clusters call catkins.
The staminate (male) flowers change colour from grey to purple as they produce pollen. The pistillate (female) flowers are larger, and they release seeds with “cotton” attached.
Some other poplars, the cottonwoods, do the same thing.
These can be a great nuisance, so nurseries will always advise you to get male trees to plant around your house.
The Quaking Aspen has several distinct benefits in the wild. For one thing, it is a favourite food of beavers. They will cut down a tree and chew almost every branch into manageable lengths for food or storage.
Secondly, they are a staple in the winter diet of deer. The twigs and buds of poplar are a preferred winter food, and form a high percentage of “browse.”
The third main use is that it acts as what is sometimes called a “nurse” tree. If an area of forest is clear cut, or badly burned over, one of the first trees to start growing again is the poplar.
These seed easily, sprout in almost any kind of soil, and seem to be able to grow rapidly in the most unlikely areas.
They cannot grow in the shade, though, and as soon as young poplars are well-established, other shade-tolerant species start to grow underneath them—and eventually take over entirely.
This is called plant succession.
Poplars traditionally are used in some pulp mills, for some softwood applications like boxes, matches, and so on. But nowadays, they seem to be coming into their own as a valuable tree for making some types of pressed or glued boards.
The Quaking Aspen may yet have a very good name among the trees of the forest.
Why the name “trembling” or “quaking?” Because the leaf stems are flattened, the slightest breeze make each leaf wobble or quake.
Even a tiny breeze makes the leaves rustle so they are rarely quiet.
Some natives called this the “talking tree” or even “woman’s tongue.”

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