A Christmas Aspen Tale

Leaves of Aspen, Populus tremula, have big curved teeth
Photo credit: Tero Laakso via Flickr

A Greenwood Tree

One of the librarians’ recommendations at the RHS Lindley Library revealed an unexpected Christmas story about the Aspen, Populus tremula. The little gem of information was inside the pages of Christina Hart-Davies’ beautifully illustrated new book The Greenwood Trees: History, folklore and uses of Britain’s trees (2018).

Tall European Aspen tree, Populus tremula against blue sky
Aspen, Populus tremula with its distinctive pale bark and fluttering leaves
Photo credit: Zeynel Cebeci [CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons]

All of a Quiver

Aspens are known for their constantly shaking leaves. The folklore suggests that the tree shakes all year, except on Christmas night. I was puzzled how a deciduous tree’s leaves would shake, but this is after all folklore. Why does the tree shake? It reputedly quivers in guilt because Jesus was crucified on a cross made from its wood. Scots’ superstitious fear of bad luck was so strong that they historically refused to use the Aspen’s wood at all. 

Populus tremula not Populus tremuloides

The tree in question is the British native Populus tremula as opposed to the North American Populus tremuloides. The tree is dioecious. This means that there are separate male and female trees. Some nurseries state that they do not sell the female trees at all, as they produce vast amounts of seeds which can become a nuisance. The attractive, grey and red, male catkins emerge before the leaves in the spring. The leaves flutter until the autumn. Then, they turn a vibrant yellow before falling.

Early stage of the grey and red catkin of Aspen, Populus tremula
© Karen Andrews

The Aspen’s life-span is relatively short for a tree at around 50-80 years. It reproduces via wind pollination, but is also known for its prolific suckering. The Aspen’s bark is a pale greenish-grey and smooth on young trees. It is marked with dark grey, diamond-shaped lenticels. Lenticels function as pores. The bark has a tendency to fracture or crack as the tree ages.

Copyright Note

Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.

© Karen Andrews 2018 onwards. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Andrews and BotanyKaren.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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