Friday, October 18, 2013

Nature Experienceship - Aspen Forests with Sam St. Clair

There’s no better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than in Utah’s beautiful mountains, especially at this time of year! Dr. Sam St. Clair hosted the Aspens Nature Experienceship last weekend, and if you weren’t there… you missed out! The drive up Alpine Loop was absolutely breathtaking. The fall colors are just incredible! Dr. St. Clair helped us expand our appreciation of these stunning forests with some amazing facts about aspen trees. Aspen trees are actually considered the largest living organism, because a grove of aspen trees is actually just one tree! Who knew? The reason why aspens have white trunks is because their trunks are covered in a white powder to act as a sunscreen for the tree. The shorter aspens have very bitter tasting leaves, so that elk and deer won’t eat them. But as you get higher up the tree, the leaves are less bitter tasting, because the animals can’t reach that high. (Smart move, aspen trees) We even talked about how forest fires aren’t all bad... in fact, they’re necessary to maintain the health of a forest over time! (But what about Smokey?! I guess bears can’t be trusted after all…) We then moved up the trail to talk about some evergreen trees that live in parasitic relationship with the aspens. The trunks grow right next to each other, practically intertwined with each other, and the evergreen steals the nutrients from the aspen. Since conifers have such soft trunks, bugs can often burrow into the trunks and feed off of the tree. To protect themselves, conifers have developed little pockets of sap that will explode and kill the bug if it tries to burrow in! Next time you see a soft-trunked evergreen tree, try pressing on one of the bubbles on the trunk and you can squirt your friends with sap! This Nature Experienceship was an amazing adventure, and everyone hung on to Dr. St. Clair’s every word. He is so passionate about what he does, you can’t help but feel the same way too! Join us next time on a Nature Experienceship, and see for yourself! 

Hailey, Museum Educator

This picture represents the parasitic relationship between the evergreen and the aspen. 

In this picture with Dr. St. Clair, you can see how a tree trunk that is bent over has sent up a branch vertically to get more sunlight.

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