Nature on Trail: Quaking Aspen, Gray Wolf
Washington's wild places are teeming with life. Learn a bit more about two common species, the Quaking Aster and Gray Wolf, and where you can find them.
Washington's wild places are teeming with life. Learn a bit more about two common species, the Quaking Aster and Gray Wolf, and where you can find them. By Teddy Wingo.
Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides)
Where to see them: In talus areas. Usually, but not always, at high elevations. As the seasons shift and fall colors begin to appear, there aren’t many sights along the trail more beautiful than the leaves of a quaking aspen. And when you look at a grove of aspen, you’re seeing one huge family. Because aspens grow from root suckers, entire groves are clones with a single root system. Interestingly, because groves are clones, they all change color at the same time in the fall. From a distance, this can differentiate one grove from another.
Aspen have a distinctive look. Their pale white trunks with eyelike knots are always observing hikers with a steady gaze. Aspen leaves flutter in the lightest breeze, giving them a distinctive sound, too.
Aspen grow to an average height of 65–80 feet and provide bountiful resources for wildlife such as elk, beavers, grouse and pikas.
Gray wolf (Canis lupus)
Where to see them: Currently, packs live in Eastern Washington, the eastern part of the North Cascades and the Wallowa Mountains in Oregon. However, lone gray wolves have been sighted in the Snoqualmie Pass region as recently as two years ago, and it is predicted that their spread will likely continue into the western portion of our state.
Typically, gray wolves travel in packs of seven or eight, with both an alpha male and female. The pack leaders track and hunt prey, choose den sites and establish the pack’s territory. The alpha wolves mates for life, but their pups tend to leave their parents to establish a pack of their own between the age of 2 and 3. Gray wolves are descendants of British Columbia wolves and are very closely related to coyotes. Though sometimes feared, wolves in the wild are extremely wary of people.
Photo of wolf by Gary Kramer.