With a nickname like “The Trembling Giant”, you’d expect Pando to be something special… and he is. The tree (if you can call him that) is a serious contender for oldest living organism, as well as being one of the biggest and the heaviest.
Pando is a quaking aspen, a type of tree common in North America (Pando himself lives in Utah). Rather than spreading seeds around (which they can do) aspen trees more often reproduce clonally – by growing a second, genetically identical tree directly from the roots of the first. This process can be repeated again and again, eventually resulting in huge groups of trees, all exactly the same and all connected to a single root system. In Pando’s case, the colony has over 40,000 individual stems.
So maybe Pando is a tree. Or maybe he’s lots of trees; it’s a matter of opinion. Either way, the whole forest is basically just one massive, living thing (and that thing is called Pando).
Estimates for Pando’s age vary greatly – each individual “tree” only lives about 130 years, so cutting one down and counting the rings isn’t really an option. While no one part of Pando has been alive for very long, the root system is thought to have been ongoing for at least 80,000 years. If that sounds like an incredibly long time (and it should) then it’s worth remembering that 80,000 is a conservative estimate of his age – some researchers believe Pando could’ve been alive for (…wait for it…) ONE MILLION YEARS!
There’s something a bit spooky about Pando. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s so old (old things are spooky), or the idea of him creepily moving across the land as new trees grow and others die off. There’s also something strange about all the trees being the same – imagine if you were one of them, stuck there surrounded by thousands of genetically identical copies of yourself. It doesn’t bear thinking about.