In Utah’s Fishlake National Forest, there are 106 acres of forest that’s actually a single Quaking Aspen with numerous shoots. At first glance, Pando, as the forest is called, looks like a grove of 47,000 individual Aspen trees. But a botanical researcher discovered in 1968 that Pando is in fact a single tree with clone stems connected by a lateral root system. Each individual tree/stem you see in the grove is actually genetically identical, making them all clones of the original parent tree.
Pando is actually the world’s largest organism by mass, weighing a whopping 13 million pounds. The ‘humongous fungus’ in Oregon’s Blue Mountains is thought to be the largest organism by distance, covering roughly 2,384 acres.
Pando, named after the Latin word meaning ‘I Spread’, could be tens of thousands of years old as a whole, with some estimates going as old as a million years old. This organism has survived through thousands and thousands of years of change since the end of the last Ice Age, in part because it’s constantly reproducing. The average age of the shoots is 130 years old and as one section dies off or succumbs to wildfires or other issues, there’s another section, a different generation, waiting to replace it. And because it’s connected by the roots, as soon as one part dies, resources are allocated to the survival of other stems.
Over the last few decades, researchers have unfortunately discovered that Pando isn’t regenerating in the way that it should and it may be dying. Dr. Paul Rogers, an ecologist at Utah State University, describes Pando’s current state as a large community of elderly people. Usually, as the individual trees naturally age and die, newer generations filled in the gaps. But because of human activity and a lack of predators in the area, there are grazers like mule deer and cattle eating the tops of saplings and making it difficult for Pando to regenerate. In fact, Pando’s growth has significantly slowed over the last four decades.