Aspen (Populus tremula) is one of the rarest and most enigmatic and beautiful of Scotland’s native trees and is our only native poplar. Historically, the Aspen tree is a pioneer, being the first tree to colonise the British Isles following the last Ice Age, and is very tolerant of a wide range of conditions, including sites with thin or poor quality soils, making it the perfect addition to Carry Farm.
What do they look like?
When Aspen leaves first open in spring, they have a distinctive coppery colour, before turning green. In autumn, the leaves turn a brilliant yellow, or in some cases red, with each separate aspen clone having its own individual colouration. The changing colours provide a stunning show and the distinctive canopy of round leaves with serrated edges and pale undersides, gives the tree the unique appearance of shimmering or quivering in the wind. Indeed, the scientific name 'tremula' means to 'tremble' and refers to the way the leaves flutter and move in the slightest breeze.
Mythology and symbolism
In Scotland, the Aspen leaves quivering in the wind were often described as gossiping, and were known as ‘old wives tongues’.
As well as its gossiping tendencies, the Aspen has protective powers. ASPIS, the Aspen's Greek name, means shield, and light weight aspen wood was favoured by Celtic warriors. These shields were more than mere physical barriers - they were imbued with additional magical, protective qualities to shield the bearer from psychic as well as physical harm. The protective nature of the "shield tree" extended to the general population too and like the Rowan tree, was a popular choice of tree to plant close to a dwelling.
And to top it all off, a crown made of aspen leaves was said to give its wearer the power to visit and return safely from the underworld and they have been found in ancient burial grounds to perhaps help the spirits of the deceased be re-born.
We think the Aspen is a pretty special tree and have planted a small stand, protecting them from the nibbling habits of deer with a high ring of gorse branches. The trees are planted close to the pond, where once established, we hope to install a comfy bench to encourage some gossiping under the trees.
Aspen is generally scarce in Scotland's native woodlands. Largely overlooked until recently, it has been found to support a wide range of animal and plant species not associated with other trees. With greater recognition, Aspen has the potential to deliver considerable benefits for biodiversity, landscape, freshwater systems and timber production.
Argyll’s Secret Coast has handful of small stands of Aspen trees. We hope to contribute towards the population in the area with our efforts at planting and encouraging the rare indigenous and bewitching tree to flourish at Carry Farm.
Our Aspen trees are still tiny, but next time you walk around the point, look out for a circle of gorse branches protecting the 10 young trees. Feel free to stop and chat………..they would like that!