Above ground, Pando appears to be a grove of individual trees, but underground the trees are interconnected by a single and vast root system and are genetically identical. It is one tree. Pando was discovered by University of Michigan-Ann Arbor botanist Burton Barnes, who first suspected the extent of the grove and began to speculate about its size, weight, and age. Barnes’s research was confirmed by Michael Grant, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado in Boulder — and who, in an effort to give the grove the beginning of a public identity, suggested the name of “Pando,” Latin for “I spread.”
Today, efforts at understanding the dynamics of Pando, and preserving it, are led by Utah State wild land resources researcher Paul Rogers. Rogers also heads the Western Aspen Alliance, focused on the study and preservation of aspen groves across the western U.S. Scientists disagree about Pando’s age, but estimates vary between hundreds and many thousands of years — perhaps to the last ice age.
Among the different strategies adopted by living organisms to survive in difficult circumstances, Pando does especially well in competition with other organisms in the midst of life-threatening natural disasters like fires, landslides, and floods. Other organisms, struggling to survive in the context of radically deprived nutritional resources, can’t compete with Pando, which receives nutrition and support from the whole of its extensive root system. Despite surviving countless natural disasters, however, Pando is now under threat from human activities — from cattle grazing, an exploding deer and elk population (due to the elimination of predators), misplaced development, and the impending prospect of radical climate change. Marvelous in its beauty, astounding in its age and extent, Pando is a fitting image of our common life together, now under threat, and our ability to endure.
Utah students and educators across academic disciplines and organizations are working together to understand the wisdom of Pando, how it has survived for such an extraordinary period of time and grown to such massive size. High school and college students take trips to the Pando grove to monitor its growth and better understand its eco-system.
We have created a network of collaborative efforts to support Pando, ranging from project-based learning initiatives to local research, conservation, and communications partnerships, including: Western Aspen Alliance, Ogden School District’s IB Program, and Stanford’s REDlab for Design Thinking.
Salt Lake Tribune, November 2017
Natural History, March 2016 (pdf)
Salt Lake City Weekly, November 2013