Trees of the Adirondack Park: Bigtooth Aspen on the Barnum Brook Trail at the Paul Smiths VIC (25 July 2012)

Trees of the Adirondacks:
Bigtooth Aspen (Populus grandidentata)

Trees of the Adirondacks: The upper trunk and branches of Bigtooth Aspen retain smooth, light-colored bark. Bigtooth Aspen at the VIC (28 July 2012) Trees of the Adirondacks: The upper trunk and branches of Bigtooth Aspen retain smooth, light-colored bark. Bigtooth Aspen at the VIC (28 July 2012).

Bigtooth Aspen (Populus grandidentata) is a native deciduous tree, which grows throughout northeastern North America, including New York State and the Adirondack Mountains. It is also known as Largetooth Aspen, Poplar, or Popple. It is a member of the Willow family. A fast-growing, but short-lived, pioneer species, Bigtooth Aspen attains heights of 60 to 80 feet.

As Bigtooth Aspen trees age, the bark becomes darker and more deeply furrowed, often showing an orangish inner bark. Bigtooth Aspen on the Barnum Brook Trail (28 July 2012).
As Bigtooth Aspen trees age, the bark becomes darker and more deeply furrowed, often showing an orangish inner bark. Bigtooth Aspen on the Barnum Brook Trail (28 July 2012).

Identification of the Bigtooth Aspen: Bigtooth Aspen flowers appear in April or May (depending on temperature) in drooping catkins. The seeds mature in May or June. The tiny, white, wind-borne seeds disperse before the leaves are fully expanded. Good seed crops are produced every 2 or 3 years, but light seed crops are produced annually. Bigtooth Aspen flowers and disperses seeds about one to three weeks later than Quaking Aspen in the same location.

The buds of the Bigtooth Aspen, which are covered by whitish down, open the latest of all native trees in our part of the Adirondacks. Bigtooth leaves generally emerge the first week in June. The oval leaves are simple, alternate, with a short-pointed tip and a rounded base. When they first open in the spring, they are covered by dense whitish hairs, so the trees are very easy to identify at that time. Bigtooth Aspen leaves tremble in the slightest breeze and rustle loudly in wind. In the autumn, the leaves turn golden-yellow.

As with many species, the bark appearance of Bigtooth Aspen changes with age.

Bigtooth Aspen leaves have large, rounded teeth. Bigtooth Aspen on the Bobcat Trail (11 July 2015)
Bigtooth Aspen leaves have large, rounded teeth. Bigtooth Aspen on the Bobcat Trail (11 July 2015)

Leaf shape is key to distinguishing Bigtooth Aspens from other deciduous trees.

Keys to differentiating Bigtooth Aspen from Quaking Aspen include its leaves, bark, and growth habit.

Uses of the Bigtooth Aspen: Bigtooth Aspen wood is light-colored, straight-grained, finely-textured, and soft. It is primarily used for pulp. The wood is also used to make particle board and structural panels. Minor uses include log homes, pallets, boxes, match splints, chopsticks, hockey stick components, and ladders. Bigtooth Aspen bark is pelletized for fuel and supplemental cattle feed.

Bigtooth Aspen has a very limited number of edible uses. The inner bark reportedly can be dried, ground into a powder, and used as a thickener in soups. Medicinal uses of Bigtooth Aspen are also limited. Native Americans have reportedly used the bark for treating rheumatism and fevers. The Iroquois are said to have used dust from the bark to relieve itching.

Birds of the Adirondacks: Bigtooth Aspen is particularly important to the Ruffed Grouse, providing both food and cover. Ruffed Grouse near the picnic pavilions at the VIC (7 May 2013).
Bigtooth Aspen is particularly important to the Ruffed Grouse, providing both food and cover. Ruffed Grouse near the picnic pavilion at the VIC (7 May 2013).

Wildlife Value of the Bigtooth Aspen: Bigtooth Aspen provides both food and cover for wildlife. Aspen suckers are a favored winter food of Moose and are heavily browsed by White-tailed Deer. American Beaver eat the bark, leaves, twigs, and branches, and use the branches as construction material for lodges and dams. Cottontail Rabbit and Meadow Vole gnaw on the bark of saplings during the winter. Bigtooth Aspen buds are also eaten by the Fox Squirrel and Red Squirrel. The latter also uses the cavities (which form as the tree grows older) as dens.

Bigtooth Aspen is a host to many kinds of insects. The tree is a caterpillar host for the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, White Admiral, and Modest Sphinx. The caterpillars of the Virgin Moth and other moths also feed on these trees.

Bigtooth Aspen trees are present in the breeding habitat for many birds, including Veery, Mourning Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Canada Warbler, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Red-eyed Vireo, and Philadelphia Vireo. As a Bigtooth Aspen tree becomes older, it often forms cavities that are used as nest sites by the Red-breasted Nuthatch, owls, and woodpeckers.

The Bigtooth Aspen is particularly important to the Ruffed Grouse. Aspen provides the basic habitat for this bird over much of its range. Ruffed Grouse feed on the leaves in the summer, flower buds in the winter, and catkins prior to the breeding season. The trees also provide crucial cover.

Range and Habitat of the Bigtooth Aspen: Bigtooth Aspen primarily occurs in the northeastern United States, southeastern Canada, and the Great Lakes Region. Its range extends from Virginia north to Maine and Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia; west to southeastern Manitoba and Minnesota; south through Iowa to extreme northeastern Missouri; and east through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia. In New York State, Bigtooth Aspen grows throughout the eastern portion of the state, including in the Adirondack Mountains.

Bigtooth Aspen is a pioneer tree after fires and logging; it can also be found on abandoned fields. Preferred habitats include most stream banks and upland woods. While capable of growing on a wide range of sites, Bigtooth Aspen is far less adaptable than Quaking Aspen. Bigtooth Aspen usually grows in mixed stands, most commonly with Quaking Aspen. Bigtooth Aspen is classed as very intolerant of shade. It cannot successfully reproduce under its own shade.

Bigtooth Aspen at the Paul Smiths VIC: Look for Bigtooth Aspen along many of the trails at the VIC, growing as individual trees in mixed stands, near Striped Maple, American Beech, and Sugar Maple. The most convenient place to observe the Bigtooth Aspen and compare this tree with other deciduous trees at the VIC is on the Barnum Brook Trail. This species is one of the eleven tree species marked with signage along this trail. The identified Bigtooth Aspen tree is less than a quarter of a mile from the entrance gazebo. If you take the left-hand fork and walk the trail in a clockwise direction, the tree is on the right hand side of the trail, just before the Striped Maple on your left.

References

Trees of the Adirondack Mountains



Explore the VIC

The Paul Smiths VIC offers a wide variety of programs throughout the year to educate and inform Adirondack Park residents and visitors about the natural wonders of the Adirondack Mountains. You can help support these programs by joining the Friends of the VIC. More information on Friends of the VIC memberships

Explore the Trails

The VIC trails are free and open to the public, from dawn to dusk, spring through fall. In winter, the trails are open to cross-country skiers and snowshoers for a fee. Day or season passes may be purchased.