Do you think a 2,000 year old redwood is ancient? A giant sequoia weighing 2,000 tons is heavy? What if I were to tell you that these weren’t even close to the oldest or the biggest? Sure, bristlecone pines live longer (5,000 years or so), but even they are young pups compared to … Pando!
Pando (whose name is Latin for “I spread”) is an aspen tree growing in Utah that covers over 100 acres and contains 47,000 stems! Our coast redwoods may sprout new stems from buds around their root collars (see the “Exploring the Mysteries of Redwood Burls” post for more details), but aspen trees have perfected the trick of reproducing without seeds. Through a phenomenon known as suckering, aspen trees grow new stems from buds that form along their roots. As these stems grow, so too does the root system, which means more buds, more stems, more roots and so on. While Pando may appear from above the ground to be a forest of individual aspen trees, it is actually connected at the roots, a massive organism that is considered to be at least 80,000 years old (though the individual stems don’t last too much more than a century). At 6,600 tons, it dwarfs pretty much any other tree in existence. And it may not be the biggest. Aspen groves have not been extensively studied, and so there may well be bigger and older trees waiting to be discovered.
For me, the big lesson here is how much of the forest is underground, and how little we know about it. Wildlife, water, carbon, size, age, beauty – all the things that make us value the forests rising above us are just as amazing below ground!