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Desert Diary
Plants/Aspen Clones


Most people view cloning as a bad thing, perhaps due in part to a lack of realization that it's a regular phenomenon in nature. Not in humans, true, but in many animals and plants. It may even result in esthetically pleasing displays, as in the autumn swatches of golden foliage in the high elevations of our Southwestern mountains. Virtually solid groves of aspens amidst the dark green of surrounding conifers draw visitors from far and near.

Yet few realize such groves consist of one or a few clones, with each clone being genetically a single individual. In the case of aspen, new trees sprout from a parental root system and may be long lived indeed. A huge, male clone in Utah is estimated to be a million years old. Aspens are shade intolerant, so thrive only where they have full access to the sun. In our Southwestern mountains, this often means where fire has destroyed coniferous forest, setting the stage for aspens. In the most usual scenario, however, conifers eventually grow to shade them, and the grove then disappears.
pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

aspen grove

An Aspen grove. Photograph by Laura Kennedy, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.