Aker Woods: Tree Species (Quaking Aspen)
Quaking Aspen gets its name from the way its leaves flutter in the breeze. Quaking Aspen leaves are uniquely attached to the trees so that even the slightest breeze causes the small leaves to flop upside down and back again. Quaking Aspen is a very widespread tree in North America, and is often the first species to sprout after a fire in a conifer forest. Forest fires create ideal conditions for the sprouting of Quaking Aspens.
In the Black Hills, Quaking Aspen had been in decline until the 1980s, due to man's success in suppressing wildfire, but since then, the forest service has promoted the species through two methods: cutting taller Ponderosa Pines that shade the Aspens, and, ironically enough, cutting the Aspens themselves. Aspen groves slowly die if left alone because they're a relatively short-lived tree and they're unable to sprout without abundant sunshine.
Aspen are often confused with the other major light-barked species, Paper Birch. It's easy to distinguish them if you remember the origin of Paper Birch's name: its bark peels away from the tree in wide, paper-thin, curling segments. Aspen bark is smoother, darker, and has black "scabs" on it.
The wood from Aspen trees tends to vary in different parts of the continent. Some Aspen produces a very uniform, light-colored wood with almost no visible grain. The Aspen in the Black Hills tends to produce wood with brown, red, and gray streaks of color. Aspen resists splitting when nailed, accepts glue and paint well, and is almost totally free of resin pockets. It's one of the softest of all deciduous woods, and is susceptible to rot. It's not a strong wood, and is also prone to warp. But due to its interesting streaks of color, it's becoming increasingly popular for interior paneling and furniture. Black Hills Aspen tend not to yield very wide or long boards: 1x8" x 12' is about the largest board we can mill from Aspen logs.