According to scientists, the 107 acre aspen grove in Utah shares the same root system, which has led to forming one of the oldest and largest living organisms to exist on Earth.
Spread across 107 acres of Utah’s Fishlake National Forest lies one of the world’s largest organisms; the Pando tree colony is truly a sight to behold. The word Pando is derived from the Latin word 'I Spread' and this single-root tree system has been growing for at least 80,000 years. The 107 acres of forest area covered by the Pando tree system has created an unusually vivid pattern that stands out among the otherwise bland hillside. Since the area is made of up a massive number of Pando trees, when the autumn breeze blows through the trees, making their leaves rustle and shiver, an onlooker will feel that the forest has become a living creature.
This gorgeous display happens every once a year. Needless to say, such an age-old forest is very rare, but the Pando is more than just a group of trees that bear the testimony of time. In fact, Pando is just one tree, since the entire forest of Fishlake is a part of the same organism. Through the means of genetic testing, it was proved that every tree in the forest is the same organism that has reproduced over and over again and bears very slight genetic variation.
These quaking trees reproduce in traditional ways by means of seeds and pollination, but when the situation gets tough, the entire tree colony takes a different approach. Rather than spreading its seeds, the grove extends its roots in a process that is known as 'suckering' where new trees start shooting up beside the old ones that look similar to new seedlings. Despite looking like seedlings, they are actually a part of Pando’s extensive root system, and that is exactly why the trees appear almost identical genetically too. In all essence, they are a product of thousands of years of natural cloning.
Word of the day: “Pando” - the name given to the clonal colony of quaking aspen trees in Utah that is conjoined by its roots into a genetically singular organism weighing c. 6 million kg & aged c. 80,000 years old (in Latin, pando means "I Spread Out"). Aka "The Trembling Giant". pic.twitter.com/XQI7jgshZD— Robert Macfarlane (@RobGMacfarlane) February 9, 2019
The "Pando" aspen clone (Pando from the Latin, meaning "I spread out"), aka The "Trembling Giant," is the largest living organism on earth: 100 acres of genetically identical trees connected by one sprawling root system. And it's dying. https://t.co/OSvx6ROXsW— Robert Macfarlane (@RobGMacfarlane) October 20, 2018
According to scientists, the entire Pando forest shares the same root system, which has resulted in forming one of the oldest and largest living organisms to exist on Earth. The deeply interconnected root system has given massive resilience, which has helped them to survive millennia of fires, droughts, climate shifts, and diseases. It has been estimated by the scientists that the entire Pando colony weighs around 13 million lbs, which makes it 55 times heavier than the largest animal on earth, the blue whale. The forest system covers 107 acres, second to the area coverage of the fungal mats in Oregon, which covers 1,000 acres.
Scientists don't know yet how the colony of these Trembling Giants grew up to be so old and large. The original tree that gave birth to the forests' root system is certainly dead, but its copies will hopefully live on for millennials to come. The specimen of the Pando trees have shown that they can grow up to 82 feet high and live to be 130 years old. The suckering roots have helped give birth to new shoots in older parts of the forest, which means that there will be newer genetic copies of older trees in the future.
Since the entire world is also reeling under the pressure of climate change, the trembling giants face dangers that threaten to put a halt to new growth and might bring an end to the world's largest organism present. Like any other forest system, Pando might fall victim to pests and drought. Sick trees die and decompose on the ground, which, in turn, helps the growth of the newer generations, as it has been happening for thousands of years. But now, the threat has fallen on Pando's root system and that threatens the existence of the entire species. The newer trees are not surviving long enough to grow into full-fledged adult trees and scientists have attributed the problem with overgrazing.
According to renowned interfaith speaker and Episcopal priest Ed Bacon, he was quoted as saying by The Salt Lake Tribune. “What we see appears to be a massive grove of thousands of individual trees,” Bacon said, “but what it is, in fact, is one single tree, genetically the same, sharing a single root system … and when any part of that organism needs nourishment, the other parts come to its aid.”
Deer and elk are eating tender shoots before they can mature and it is directly resulting in a fewer number of new trees. In order to save the forest system, conservation work began in 2010, and the efforts were doubled in 2016 and 2017. Newer and sturdier fences were erected in order to keep animals away from new sprouts, and some trees, shrubs, and brush were cut in order to promote new growth. 27 distinct areas of the Pando colony are monitored by teams to keep an eye on the regeneration. Till now, the fences have held and done its job, which is a hopeful sign for the forest and has also given a chance for other aspen groves which were also threatened because of overgrazing.