Whiter Shade of Pale
By Leah Duran
Nothing signals fall in Arizona like the fiery plumes of
Look for smooth, grayish-white bark and leaves that flutter, or quake, in the breeze, earning them the name "quaking" aspens. On windy days, you can hear their tinning chorus. Aspens are the most widely dispersed native tree species in North America. In Arizona, they span elevations of 6,500 to 10,000 feet and forests and meadows from the Kaibab Plateau to the White Mountains. These versatile trees also thrive in the volcanic soils of the San Francisco Peaks and in Southern Arizona's sky islands.
A pioneer species, aspens colonize areas recently disturbed by fire. Aspen stands support a high level of biodiversity lacking in areas dominated by conifers. Wildflowers, grouse and black bears benefit from aspen habitat, and elk and deer eat their young shoots.
Overgrazing by wildlife, combined with forest diseases and fire suppression, has led to declining Western aspen populations. With wildfires predicted to increase in the coming decades, aspens will continue to crown autumn hills with a citrine glow.