View From the Plaza

Truth or Fiction?

I have been repeatedly told that the aspen grove above Santa Fe (a quick 20 minute drive from La Fonda’s front door to the Aspen Vista Trailhead) is the largest living organism on earth, since the trees are all joined together through their root system. This morning I watched the sunrise over the vibrant autumn leaves and was wondering about the veracity of the oft-quoted claim. The first person that convinces me on whether or not the claim is true by commenting on this blog, I will treat to a dinner for two in our restaurant!  Fact or fiction, if you have a chance, make a run towards the ski basin and see the aspens in their full glory as soon as you can!

14 Responses to “Truth or Fiction?”

  1. Billie Blair

    Aspen are joined by their root system, so I’m saying it’s the biggest organism. It should be on the tourist sights-to-see and is definitely a do-not-miss for locals. Just stunning, these last beautiful days of autumn.

  2. William Freimuth

    from Wikipedia

    This is the most diverse and numerous division of plants, with upwards of 400,000 species.
    Clonal colonies
    For two dimensional area, the largest known clonal flowering plant, and indeed largest plant and organism, is a grove of male Aspen in Utah, nicknamed Pando (Populus tremuloides). The grove is connected by a single root system, and each stem above the ground is genetically identical. It is estimated to weigh approximately 6,000,000 kg,[6] and covers 0.43 km² (106 acres).[7][8]
    Another form of flowering plant that rivals Pando as the largest organism on earth in breadth, if not mass, is the giant marine plant, Posidonia oceanica, discovered in the Mediterranean near the Balearic Islands, Spain. Its length is about 8 km (5 mi). Although this plant has not been proven to be a single connected organism, all the samples do have the same DNA. It may also be the oldest living organism in the world, with an estimated age of 100,000 years.[9]
    “Individual” plants

    Rafflesia arnoldii flower
    By a stricter definition of individuality, and using contending measures of size, Ficus benghalensis, the giant banyan trees of India are the largest trees in the world.[10] In these trees, a network of interconnected stems and branches has grown entirely by vegetative, “branching” propagation. One individual, Thimmamma Marrimanu, in Andhra Pradesh, covers 19,107 square metres, making it the largest single tree by two-dimensional canopy coverage area. This tree is also the world’s largest known tree by a related measure, perimeter length, with a distance of 846 metres required to walk around the edge of the canopy. Thimmama Marrimanu is likely also the world’s largest tree by three dimensional canopy volume.

    • Jenny Kimball

      I think you are the proud winner of dinner for 2. I will email you your certificate. So the answer is fiction!

  3. Annette Kelley

    Jenny — the following is from Outspire (Santa Fe’s Hiking Specialists’ blog):
    Aspens (Populus tremuloides) are indeed a species that has a shared root system between many trunks. Those root systems can be thought of as the individual and the trunks as branches (which are called rametes by biologists). The whole grouping or “clone” shares genetics, gender and to a large degree nutrition.

    A bright green stripe among changing neighbors–a probable clone?
    This is a huge advantage to the plant in several circumstances. When an area has been cleared by windstorm or fire, the underlying root system can spring to life and send up shoots within weeks of the extra sunlight reaching the ground. This process can occur at any time during the growing season–not just when seeds are shed in mid-summer. Since the little shoots are supported by an established root, they can grow very quickly and recover from some serious injuries along the way to becoming contributing members to the system.

    This pattern of growth and spread means that over the years an individual can cover a large area. The world’s largest proven clone is named Pando (Latin for “I spread”) and covers just over 106 acres in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. To prove it’s size, researchers sampled and genetically tested over 200 stems to outline the boundaries of the clone.

    However, they also found over 40 other genets or clones within their sample area illustrating that boundaries are not regular or well-defined. Indeed other researchers have found areas (even in small aspen stands) of complete overlap between clones where particular trunks are not related at all to immediately adjacent trunks.

    So I say, especially having just been up to Aspen Vista this afternoon, where there are strands of golden aspens, red aspens, still green aspens, that it is not one clone system but several. And if Outspire is right, then the Wasatch Mtns have us beat. But who cares, it is gorgeous!

    • Jenny Kimball

      I think your response also deserves dinner so I will send you a certificate.

  4. William Freimuth

    Thanks Jenny!
    I don’t believe it is entirely fiction….as this does indicate that aspen groves do represent one of the largest organisms. Wikipedia is not very reliable…..yet.
    Another search led to the following….and it also refers to wiki…..along with ‘Extreme Science’.

    The largest living organism is a honey fungus found in the Blue Mountains of Oregon. It spans 3.4 square miles (8.9 sq km) and is estimated to be 2,400 years old.
    Pando, a clonal colony of Quaking Aspen in Fishlake National Forest, Utah, is the heaviest single living organism. It is estimated to weigh around 13,000,000 pounds (6,000,000 kg).
    Wikipedia –
    Extreme Science –

    As an extension of my gratitude for the REWARD I also offer; The Gaia hypothesis sees the Eaarth as a single living entity.

    warning….also from Wiki;
    The Gaia hypothesis, also known as Gaia theory or Gaia principle, proposes that all organisms and their inorganic surroundings on Earth are integrated to form a single and self-regulating complex system, maintaining the conditions for life on the planet. Topics of interest include how the biosphere and the evolution of life forms affect (and in some cases contribute to) the stability of global temperature, ocean salinity, oxygen in the atmosphere and other factors of habitability.

    ….I find this to be ‘closest-to-the-truth’ and like the aspen, incredibly uplifting.

  5. santafetraveler

    Whether or not the aspen is the world’s largest organism- there’s apparently a larger stand in Utah. But Aspen Grove is pretty spectacular and the photos are, too. Sadly, aspens now have a disease and are dwindling.


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