Just outside of Fish Lake, Utah lies a beautiful stand of quaking aspen. But this isn’t just your average aspen forest.
It’s been named Pando, or alternatively, The Trembling Giant. Scientists believe that this stand of aspen is actually just a single living organism. Each of the approximately 47,000 ordinary looking aspens growing over 106 acres is genetically identical to one another and shares the same root system. It’s estimated to be an astounding 80,000 years old, making it the oldest known organism on Earth. Pando is also believed to be the most massive living thing, too.
A single organism
Like creosote, aspens are clonal plants that can reproduce vegetatively (as well as sexually) from a single individual. What appear to be separate trees are actually stems growing from the lateral roots of a single individual tree. Each new tree shares the same dna and remains connected via the root system, even sharing nutrients and possibly disease. Over time, this single organism can continue to spread and grow, even as particular stems die off. In this way, the organism seems to repeatedly cheat death.
Is Pando dying?
Unfortunately, Pando doesn’t seem to be regenerating new trees to replace the ones that die off. Efforts are underway to study the problem, which includes fencing off several monitoring plots as well as treating plots with understory fire and canopy thinning.
Unlike other famously-old trees, Pando’s location is well known and easy to access. The grove is located in the Fishlake National Forest in Utah about one mile south of Fish Lake and is bisected by Highway 25. You can easily find it on google maps. As mentioned above, parts of the forest have been fenced off and aren’t accessible. But there’s plenty of Pando otherwise accessible to visitors, including a section of it containing a campground.