Aspen Bibliography

Quaking Aspen: The Iconic and Dynamic Deciduous Tree of the Rocky Mountains

Document Type

Contribution to Book

Journal/Book Title/Conference

The Rocky Mountain West: A Compendium of Geographic Perspectives


American Association of Geographers

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Perhaps no other species of tree jumps to mind as quickly as Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) when one waxes poetically about the iconic vistas of the Rocky Mountain West. Quaking aspen, so called for its trembling leaves, have been the focus of countless paintings and photographs, from Ansel Adams to John Fielder to scores of amateur photographers whose hashtags identify the species on Instagram. The ecological setting of many upland aspen settings provides a sharp contrast against exposed rock, snow and the dark green blanket of conifer forests that many of us seek out in the autumn. Such scenes drive tourism revenue and are used in many recreational activity advertisements by western resorts. Beyond their aesthetic value, aspen communities are valued for the biological diversity and habitat they provide in western landscapes. Furthermore, aspen face a number of ecological and management challenges that likely go unnoticed by the tourist or casual recreator. Above all, aspen communities are dynamic, so there is a good chance your favorite aspen grove might look different at some point in your lifetime. The goal of this essay is to provide a broad overview of the unique niche of aspen ecosystems in the interior Rocky Mountain West, highlight its dynamic nature, and shed light on the challenges associated with stewardship of this iconic species.