Quaking Aspen. Fooled Again?

In my last post I described being fooled by a grove of White Poplar Populus alba I initially thought were Big-toothed Aspen Populus grandidentata. And on the same day I was fooled again in identifying another Big-toothed Aspen. This time by Quaking Aspen Populus tremuloides.

After the encounter with the White Poplar I headed  to Johnson County Park to take notes on Honey Locusts Gleditsia triacanthos. While taking those notes I noticed another birch/aspen tree across the road.

So I started working through the winter field marks to ensure it was the expected tree for the area, Big-toothed Aspen.

The tree (trees) in question, Big-toothed Aspen or not?

The bark seems good for a Big-toothed. A slender tree around 50′ high with light, gray limbs.  The branches basically ascend in a vertical manner.

The higher branches and trunk are light gray as expected.
The lower trunk has become dark and furrowed.

And now here is where my rookie status takes over. The tree has lower limbs so I can examine the twigs and buds.

Examining the bud in the field it appears long and pointed.
Another view of the pointy buds. But notice how they curve slightly?

And here is where I’ll make a comment on Field Guides.

Looking and reading about Big-toothed and Quaking Aspens I still thought my ID was correct on Big-toothed. The field guides don’t point out the difference enough on the twigs to accurately differentiate them.

And so soon I’ll be writing a post on Tree Field Guides pros and cons.

Still thinking it’s a Big-toothed Aspen I noticed some leaves on one of the trees. And the ID is made.

Notice how the leaves aren’t necessarily opposite but originate from the same point on the branch? A trait of Quaking Aspen but not Big-toothed.
Quaking Aspen
The Smoking Gun – a Quaking Aspen leaf.
Here is a side by side comparison of the two Aspen leaves. My photo above looks good for a Quaking Aspen.

So where did I go wrong?

1. For starters I’m still a rookie and learning the nuances of tree identification. When I got home and examined the twig/bud I confirmed the ID.

2. The field guides in their attempt to cover too many trees are either lacking in words, lacking in photos, or aren’t clear to a rookie.

3. According to 101 Trees of Indiana Quaking Aspen only occur in the northern part of Indiana. So did someone plant them in Johnson County Park?

4. I could be all wrong and when spring arrives I’ll positively ID the tree.

I now can’t wait to find a Big-toothed Aspen so I can compare it to Quaking Aspen and White Poplar.

White Poplar. Won’t be Fooled Again.

Ever since we moved to the area I’ve wondered about a grove of trees at Atterbury FWA. Even my limited knowledge of trees told me they were some sort of birch or aspen tree. But I thought birch and aspen only grow in northern states or high altitude. But I was mistaken on both accounts by White Poplar. And I won’t be Fooled Again. Hopefully.

From my travels to Northern Minnesota in search of winter owls I knew birches/aspens grew in the Sax-Zim Bog area.

February 2011 – N. Minnesota – Notice the Aspen/Birch Trees in the background? The temperature is -25F.

And from running my BBS routes at 9500′ in Western Colorado that aspen trees grow at altitude.

Quaking Aspens lined Divide Road at 9500′ on the Uncompahgre Plateau.

But from driving around the Central Till Plain of Central Indiana there aren’t many birches or aspens.

Except I keep passing by this group on the north end of Atterbury FWA. Why are they here?

A grove of Birch/Aspen on the north end of Atterbury FWA.

So that was my starting point for serious study of Indiana’s Native Trees. With Native being the key word.

I arrived mid-morning and promptly set off taking notes on the grove. The trees were approximately 80′ high and the larger trees were 20″ at shoulder height.  Their overall structure are erect and narrow with branches growing vertical.  Most of the bark was white with a tint of yellow. On the base the bark was gray and furrowed, expected on mature trees.

Mid-height the bark was smooth and gray.
And the lower trunk was dark and furrowed.

At this point I was pretty certain these were Big-toothed Aspen, the expected tree for Central Indiana. There were no low limbs to check a twig, so I looked through my binoculars for confirmation. I expected a slim, straight, gray twig with single, pointed end buds.

Instead I got knobby twig with multiple white buds. What was going on here?


Here are the buds and twigs I was expecting.
White Poplar
But here is what I got. Not at all what I expected. The twigs had multiple buds on a knobby twig.

Checking the field guides it was quickly apparent what was going on here. The tree was a White Poplar Populus alba, also known as Silver Poplar.  An import from Eurasia. The tree is very similar to our Big-toothed Aspen except it turns blacker with age. And of course the difference in the before mentioned twigs and buds.

Notice how these Quaking Aspens in Colorado are almost all white compared to the blackish trunks of the White Poplars above.

Not sure why someone would have planted them at Atterbury except they are an evasive. So I can’t add to my Native Trees of Indiana list.

So as each of my field guides say, “it is by comparing all the details that identification is achieved, and the combination of determining factors is not the same in each case.” (The Tree Identification Book, pg. 100)

Sounds a lot like birding.