Providing accurate and timely information about the Pando tree is a core component of our mission to educate the public. If people seeking information only find false or misleading content, it makes it difficult to promote awareness and encourage meaningful and good faith conversations about the tree and how to best take care of it.
As an organization that works year round on the Pando tree, (something leading scientists have said Pando has needed going back to the 1990’s), Friends of Pando wishes to share that launching this center is driven by a desire promote clarity and understanding for non-scientific audiences.
Scientific endeavors involve enormous risk and arduous work. It is absolutely possible to commit to doing all of that, and still be wrong, or, to see conditions change such that initial data-driven interpretations no longer make sense, because nature is ever changing. Here, we point out statements that are misleading or require more context. In no way should readers assume that pointing out these things is the same as saying others who study and care about for Pando deserve our derision. They deserve our support for good faith work and helpful feedback when claims do not match the data offered.
Friends of Pando supports all who have a sincere and good faith interests in Pando’s study and care. We encourage readers to understand that while we work on the tree year round, our organization is but one thread in a larger conversation about Pando and there is a lot of work to be done, not only in the field, but also in how we talk about this tree that re-defines what a tree can be.
” She is not even close to being the largest organism by weight.”
We discourage use of the word “organism” to refer to Pando as there are single celled clonal bodies that are larger in other dimensions. Pando is a Tree. It is the largest tree by multiple scales of measure.
” Pando has roughly 47,000 genetically identical clone trunks”
Each individual part of Pando that appears as a tree trunk is known as a “ramet”. Botanists would call the bodies (trunks) “boles”.
“Why scientists consider Pando a single organism. ..”
While genetics alone demonstrates that Pando is a single organism, we find it more compelling, that Pando gathers energy and coordinates energy production defense and regeneration across its entire land mass. You can see that in operation each Spring and Fall when the leaves change.
” Dendrochronologist estimates range from 80,000 to 1 Million years.
This often cited dateline is simply wrong. Each stem of Pando only lives to be about 150 years old. You cannot sample tree rings of Pando back 80,000 to 1 Million years. Glacier history and charcoal studies suggest Pando has been operating for about 9,000 years.
” Pando’s corner of Utah remained glacier-free”
Fishlake was covered by glaciers and was dominated by glacier age weather currents until about 13,000 years ago.
“Asexual reproduction tends to happen when conditions are favorable to growth.”
Some have characterized asexual reproduction as a stress response. Indeed, the hormone involved in asexual reproduction requires rapid changes in the relationship between auxin and cytokinins in a given tree for asexual reproduction to occur. That Pando spread so wide was also likely to a large disturbance that killed other trees.
” New stems are growing to maturity much more slowly than they need to, in order to replace the trunks that fall”
” We have deprived Pando of fire”
“By reducing livestock grazing in the area…”
Livestock grazing is allowed for 10 days a year, weather permitting in October after Pando has stopped regenerating for the year.
Grazing is only allowed by permit, and grazers must turn in reports on forage use or face fines. The same area grazers are permitted is also a distributed camping area where large vehicles are allowed. A 2022 plan by Fishlake National Forest closes this section of the tree out altogether for either grazing or, large vehicles.
“Pando is Shrinking”
The headline is misleading. Pando has been changing shape, size and form for thousands of years. Such claims are based on random plot sampling methods that to date, have shown wide variance. In 2016, research suggested the tree was recovering, two years later, the tree was said to be dying. We simply need more research.
“Pando is the Densest Organism”
Fact: Pando is the worlds largest tree, but not particularly dense as aspen are light hungry and spread out across the ground as they race upward toward the sun.
“Pando is considered one of the largest and densest organisms”
Fact: Pando is a tree, and is the world’s largest tree. Not the largest organism, not the most dense organism.
“…The Fabric is getting thinner…”
Rogers is a leading researcher on Pando, however, this claim needs more context. Since the 1980’s, it is said that Pando should produce 400 stems per acre, but we lack the physical data to back that claim up despite repeated requests to USFS and independent researchers to produce the plot study that gave us this number. Today, we lack a standard rate of regeneration model for Pando meaning claims the tree is “shrinking”, “breaking apart” or, “dying” require additional study and a healthy spoonful of skepticism. While Rogers has led the charge and inspired concern, (including our own), his research between 2014 and today coincides with a drought period in Pando’s homeland. That same period, could have only reasonably sustained two full “crops” of healthy regeneration assuming a growth rate of 3 foot per year. Simply put, it is a very small sample with complicating evidence and we need to do more research.
“Deer are herded into the area…”
Deer are not “herded” into Pando, they roam freely in the area. What’s more, Pando is surrounded by what is a de facto, 700 square mile wildlife refuge, while Fishlake Basin itself has been used by humans for some 1,500 years as a summer retreat, for agriculture, commerce, recreation and hunting.
“Fishlake National Forest was clear cutting and collecting firewood from Pando in the 1980’s.”
In our work with the Fishlake National Forest, we have explored the history of management in detail. In this case, Fishlake National Forest accounts indicated staff allowed people to remove diseased trees, a common strategy to rid aspen clones of disease. In addition, sections of Pando have been coppiced (cut to the ground) a restorative strategy that shifts the hormone cycle and spurs new growth.
“Pando doesn’t get a ton of visitors”
Pando’s home, Fishlake Basin, receives 300,000 visitors each year.
In 2022, according to our gate monitors, Pando received 1,794 visitors. A large number of people considering such a remote and still, not very well understood natural subject.
“Fences are inadequate”
Fences have promoted massive regeneration in the tree going back to the 1980’s. In fact, fences are the first step to set the stage for protection and restoration work. Without fencing, little work can be done to protect, restore or study Pando.
Providing accurate information about the tree is part of the Friends of Pando mission. Refuting false, inaccurate and misleading information is equally important. Below is a list of commonly misreported information that sees wide syndication.
Fact: There is no way to reliably test Pando’s age. Many scientists believe Pando could not be any older than 8,000 to 12,000 years old, since ice age era weather currents made the area inhospitable.
Fact: Pando continues to regenerate itself. Research by Paul Rogers indicates deer and other ungulates stymie Pando’s growth, but as a recent discovery in a class of its own, we do not yet know the rate of regeneration we might expect for Pando considering all other factors human and non-human. In simple terms, research by Sam St. Clair suggests the “tipping point” of shrinkage that marks imminent death is about 60% total area, which we do not see with Pando but we do see active regeneration. In addition, if Pando were truly dying, we would have evidence that the hormone cycle involved with regeneration has halted. So far, there is no evidence to indicate this is the case.
Fact: Pando is five times larger in by dry weight than the next largest tree, a Sequoia giganticum named the General Sherman tree . Pando is also twice the size of the next largest Aspen Clone (106 acres versus 47 acres). Distinctions made by forestry and botanical organizations about the “largest plants” vary considerably between scientific domains of expertise. They also vary between scientific groups around the world. Pando is the largest tree when measured by multiple standards (type, area and weight), which is not true of any other tree.
Multiple fungal bodies bear the name “Humongous Fungus” (Oregon and Michigan each have one, and another “mega-fungus” has been reported in Italy). Secondly, in terms of raw size, Pando is over 14 times larger by weight than the estimated weight of the “Humongous Fungus” of Michigan. Weight estimates for the Oregon “Humongous fungus” vary. Third, the statement compares two unrelated “organisms” (see above) where methods and classification systems between botany and mycology vary considerably.
A spate of news stories in 2022 suggested Pando is “breaking up” and/or has broken into 3 sections. As with previous claims that Pando is dying or rapidly decaying, such claims come without any agreed to reference point for expected regeneration rates for Pando. This is research that could be done, and has been done with other aspen trees, just not with Pando. Absent data on expected or even ideal regeneration rates, its compelling to us that indeed, areas without fencing typically fare worse than those that do have fencing.
Friends of Pando is dedicated and working to educate the public, support research and preservation efforts and inspire stewardship of Pando, the world’s largest tree.
Your gift of only $14 a month will help protect Pando for generations to come.
Friends of Pando is a proud partner of Pando’s public land stewards, Fishlake National Forest of the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Agriculture.
Learn more about our partnership.
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