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
For 106 acres on the southwest bank of Fish Lake in Sevier County, Utah, a single root system unites this forest. Pando is the biggest aspen “clone” ever identified, the single most massive living organism known on Earth. Though little known in Utah, Pando has gained fame as a tourist destination and as a symbol of sustainability and interconnectedness. It is being researched, photographed, talked about. It has inspired poetry, sermons, even comedy sketches. Scientists say it could be on the brink of collapse.
SciTech Now, February 2016
The public media program SciTech Now (seen on PBS) is broadcasting a Utah produced video segment on the world’s largest living single organism, the Pando Aspen clone near Fish Lake. Pando is also likely to be the world’s most ancient living organism, though estimates of its age vary widely, from 2000 years to 1 million years old. But saving it may be as simple as putting up a good fence.
Natural History, March 2016 (pdf)
Read the advance copy of Paul Rogers’ latest piece – “Saving Pando.” As the Director of the Western Aspen Alliance at Utah State University, Rogers is the leading scientist today focused on Pando as an organism.
Aspen Forest (pdf)
Important information about Utah’s aspen forests, from the State of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
Tremblings Newsletter, May 2015 (pdf)
Partnering to preserve and restore healthy aspen ecosystems
Salt Lake City Weekly, November 2013
The World’s Largest Known Organism Is In Utah – And It’s Dying. Nestled alongside Coots Slough, near the southwest corner of Fish Lake in Utah’s Sevier County, this aspen clone spans more than 430,000 square meters—more than four times the size of New York’s Yankee Stadium. And deep in this hundred-acre wood is a mystery that scientists are now rushing to solve. What is killing this great and ancient thing? And can it be stopped?
Monroe Elementary, February 2014
Students and teachers from Monroe Elementary School took a field trip to participate in the Senate vote on Senate Bill 41 to change the state tree to the Quaking Aspen, a process in which the students played an integral part.