Populus tremuliodes – Aspen, Quaking
Aspen, Quaking – Populus tremuloides
Populus = Pop-u-lus, Latin name for poplar – arbor populi – “tree of the people”;
tremuloides = trem-ew-loy-dees, L. for “aspen-like” (ie. like Populus tremulus);
tremulus = L. for “trembling, shaking”;
Identification: Quaking aspen looks similar to balsam poplar, with which it often hybridizes. It reaches a height of 30 m and has smooth, light green or greyish bark that becomes furrowed with age. The petioles are slender (from which it gets it name), with orbicular to broadly ovate, finely serrated to nearly entire leaves.
Distribution & Habitat: Generally found in parkland, it inhabits moist and sunny locations from Alaska south to the cooler locations of Mexico.
How Aspens came to tremble (a Blackfoot story)
All of the plants and animals respected Napi (the Blackfoot man/god/clownster) very much. Whenever he went through the woods all of the trees would bow down to him, partly out of fear and partly out of respect. One day the aspens got together and decided that Napi wasn´t all that important, so they agreed that they would not bow down for him, next time he was around. True to their word, the next day when Napi came walking by they just stood there indignantly. Well of course Napi didn´t like this. In a tantrum he started throwing lightning bolts at them, almost scaring the leaves right off their branches. To this very day the aspens are so scared that every time they hear someone walking in the woods, they tremble their leaves in fear that it might be Napi…
The petioles of aspen leaves are quite thin. Together with the fact that the under sides are greyish-silver and the upper are bright green, it means that the slightest wind make them appear to tremble.
Preparation & Uses: The inner bark was eaten as a spring tonic and an emergency food by the Indians.
The tonic effect of the leaf and especially the inner bark has been well established. Aspen bark is often preferred by herbalists over Peruvian bark or quinine. The tonic effect is useful for stomach pain, liver problems, convalescence and for relaxing headaches, but its greatest effects are on the urinary/genital system. The inner bark has been used to strengthen weakened female organs (especially during excessive menstrual bleeding), for prostatitis, vaginal and renal areas as well as being used for a variety of venereal diseases. It is a diuretic that is often combined with Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (bearberry). A tincture of the bark (containing aspirin-like salicin and populin) has been used for fevers, rheumatism, arthritis, colds, worms, urinary infection and diarrhea. A salve made from the leaf can be used for irritated nostrils.