Populus tremuloides is a tree standing up to 25 m tall, though generally not taller than 10 m, that forms clonal stands that are easily recognizable in the open areas it generally inhabits. Trunks of the tree are very straight. The leaves of the tree are up to 7 cm long, heart shaped with fine serrations around the margins and have flat stalks that allow them to flutter in the lightest breeze, leading to the common name of the ‘Quaking Aspen’. In the fall, the leaves are a beautiful golden color that contrasts sharply with the often drab colored background of the landscape the groves are typically found in. The bark is smooth and covered in white powder that can be wiped away. As a member of the Salicaceae or Willow plant family, the flowers are born in dioceous drooping catkins that appear before the leaves in the spring. The fruit is a capsule containing hundreds of small seed with cottony appendages that will catch the wind and disperse widely when released.
The habitat of P. tremuloides includes high plains and foothills along ravines or well-drained depressions where seepage occurs in the spring and the water table is high during the summer. The soil of the aspen grove is fertile sandy-loam as a result of years of erosion from the upland slopes. Common associates found within an aspen stand are chokecherry (Prunus virginiana ), serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) and edible hawthorn (Crataegus sp.).
The groves formed by the clonal stands are a haven for birds and wildlife, providing food, water and shelter from insects, predation, humans and adverse weather.
The distribution of this tree in the Pacific Northwest west of the Cascade Mountain range is sporadic with known locations of stands in southeast Vancouver Island, around the shores of the Puget Sound, the Willamette Valley of Oregon, the Strait of Georgia and on some of the islands of the San Juan Archipelago. The stands are much more common at mid elevations, in the Cascades and east of the Cascades.
Hitchcock, C.L. and A. Cronquist (1994) Flora of the Pacific Northwest, University of Washington Press, Seattle and London.
E.N. Kozloff (1976) Plants and Animals of the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington Press, Seattle and London.
Pojar, J. and A. McKinnon (1994) Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Lone Pine Publishing, Washington, Canada.
Taylor, R.J. (1992) Sagebrush Country: a wildflower sanctuary. Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, MT.