Joined: 30 May 2006 Posts: 1989 Location: West of Ireland
Posted: Fri Feb 23, 2007 1:13 am Post subject: Irish native Aspen tree / Trembling poplar (Populus tremula)
Irish native Aspen tree / Trembling poplar (Populus tremula/ tremuloides)
Aspen ... Populus tremula / tremuloides ... Crann Creathach
If you were to judge a tree by its common name, then this particular Irish native tree would confuse you. Populus tremula is commonly known as the aspen, which for me conjures up images of snow capped mountains and ski slopes in Colorado, an area that happens to enjoy a wide distribution of these trees.
So, to avoid confusion, I usually end up calling this tree by its other common name, which is derived from the Latin meaning, trembling poplar.
The whispering leaves.
This common name (Trembling poplar) is very fitting, because its loosely toothed, almost circular leaves (3 to 8 cm across) tremble in the slightest breeze. This leaf movement creates a distinctive and often spooky rustling sound, arriving out of nowhere on a calm day, as if whispering to the passers by. The down to earth explanation for this sound is that the leaves are light enough to be disturbed by a faint breeze, but coarse enough to create a rustling sound. However, this has not prevented the many legends associated with the trembling phenomenon.
It was believed that Populus tremula was cursed forever to tremble in shame, having been the wood used for the cross upon which Christ was crucified. I have my doubts about this story, as these aspen trees are native to colder regions with cool summers, which Palestine does not provide. Another legend assures us that the trembling poplar leaves are made from the tongues of past females, who had a great ability to talk and talk. I also doubt this legend, mainly for fear of crucifixion by all the masses of lady gardeners out there.
Catkins and insects.
Whatever about the legends, I can vouch for the leaves emerging coppery brown in spring, and then later maturing to grey-green with light coloured undersides. Being a deciduous (sheds and renews leaves annually) tree, these leaves shed from the light branching in a rain of yellows and gold's throughout autumn. Before clothing itself with leaves in spring, the male trees produce flowers, which are hanging catkins (11cm long), greyish-brown in colour. On female trees, green and brown catkins of a similar length are produced, both of these catkins are part of the trees eco-system, which is known to sustain up to 90 insect species.
Ideal conditions for a quick growing shelterbelt.
Although not terribly prevalent in Ireland, Populus tremula can still be found on hillsides, deep in valley bottoms and on the edges of wooded areas. The trees preferred growing conditions are moist with a neutral to acid PH in full sun to semi-shade. As regards exposure, this poplar will tolerate strong winds all apart from salt laden sea breezes. It is worth noting that while the trembling poplar is often planted as a quick growing shelterbelt, 20 metres tall by 10 metres wide, it does possess an extremely aggressive root system. These roots have the ability under certain circumstances to damage building foundations within a 10-metre radius, and to create further poplar trees by means of root suckers.
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