From weed to "green gold"
The heartwood of quaking aspen was once considered to be worthless by loggers. The tree even had the nickname "weed tree" in some parts of the mountains. But the modern lumbering industry now sees quaking aspen as "green gold" for its pulp's value for producing high quality paper. Groves of quaking aspens are prime habitat for wildlife and add great beauty to recreational sites.
Fire in the forest is the primary threat to a grove of quaking aspen. Fire easily kills the thin bark of the tree and even a light fire can injure the bark, allowing a decaying fungus to enter. These decaying fungi will soon destroy and hollow out the wood, causing the tree to then break during mountain windstorms.
Insects, animals and humans can also easily damage the bark of quaking aspen allowing for disease organisms to enter. Grazing animals such as herds of deer and elk eating the tender bark can have a devastating affect on a quaking aspen grove.
On the decline
Botanists speculate the quaking aspen forest of the Rocky Mountains may be in decline. Much of the decline, they believe, is from the normal succession toward a conifer-dominated forest. Yet in the areas of most recent massive wildfires, it will be the quaking aspen tree that begins to sprout first in the blackened landscape in the cycle of re-vegetating the mountain forests.
But, where the forests still stands and are healthy, it is September once again and the golden colors of the quaking aspen are a sure sign that summer is over.
For those who live among the quaking aspen, the firewood has once again been cut and stacked in preparation for the winter that will soon come.
Turning in unison
The roads of mountain meadows lead past the split rail fence toward the groves of quaking aspen trees at the base of the silent volcano. And since these quaking aspen groves share a common root system, the leaves turn golden at the same time, creating a brilliant, picturesque landscape.
Announcing the way
Autumn is coming to the mountains of the American West once again. How do we know? The beauty of the golden quaking aspen tells us so!
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.