Aspen is the 17th, and penultimate, letter in the Gaelic tree alphabet. It’s E – old Gaelic eadha, modern Gaelic crithean. Aspen is called Populus tremula in latin, appropriately, as its leaves tremble in the slightest breeze.
The gentle one waits
as starts are made:
false, hopeful, early, wrong.
He watches while
a protest storm smashes
in from the guiltless ocean.
a thousand diamond smiles
while hope is dashed.
The gentle one is
to begin spring
though soon he is taller
greener, more exuberant
than every other
clapping and clapping
an ecstasy of celebration
of growth, sunshine,
Summer is short,
the gentle one says,
winter is long.
You may dress yourself in gold
but armour will not make you
wise or strong.
Snippets of lore
Aspen is called old wives’ tongues in Roxburghshire, because the leaves are constantly moving.
Aspen suckers readily, forming stands of a single organism. Individual trees are short lived but stands can be ancient.
The largest organism on the planet is an aspen grove, nicknamed Pando, in Utah, USA. It covers 106 acres and weighs 6000 tonnes.
Aspens are poplars.
The male and female flowers of aspen are on separate trees.
Aspen seeds are tiny on silver hairs – fluff – blown by the wind.
Aspen leaves move so much because of their flattened stems.
Aspen suckers are food for rabbits and deer.
If aspen suckers get too vigorous and compete with the trees, they are suppressed naturally.
Wood ants tend aphids that suck the sap of aspens
A rare bracket fungus Phellinus tremulae grows on aspen.
Aspen wood cuts well with a chisel, but it rots so must be kept dry.
Aspen wood is used for barrel staves, milk pails, saddle trees, tables, chairs and packing cases.
Aspen wood doesn’t burn well.
Aspen leaves produce yellow or black dye, its bark produces brown.
A poultice of aspen root heals cuts and bruises.
Aspen leaf buds are diuretic, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory.
Aspen has the most acute hearing of all trees – and trembles with all that it hears.
Aspen is sacred because the wind, to which it is most sensitive, is the messenger from the gods.
Aspen is a shield tree to overcome fear.
Carry an aspen twig to protect against theft.
Aspen is linked to Cronos, Greek god of time.
To be eloquent, sleep with an aspen leaf under your tongue.
Norse Odin stabbed himself and hung himself from an aspen for 9 days – sacrificing his body to achieve spiritual rebirth.
Christ was reputed to have been crucified on aspen, so it trembles in shame.
It is a Highland tradition to ‘dress down’ (i.e. tell off) an aspen on Good Friday.
Crowns of aspens were found in graves in Mesopotamia, 3000 B.C.
There is a taboo against using aspen for any farming or fishing implements.
There used to be an ancient Celtic cult of Esus, a god who was appeased by hanging people in aspen trees.
It is taboo to cook on aspen wood.
A fe is an aspen rod for measuring the dead for coffins.
A spell against ague: ‘Aspen tree, aspen tree, prithee shake and shiver instead of me’.