1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Aspen

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ASPEN, an important section of the poplar genus (Populus) of which the common aspen of Europe, P. tremula, may be taken as the type,—a tall fast-growing tree with rather slender trunk, and grey bark becoming rugged when old. The roundish leaves, toothed on the margin, are slightly downy when young, but afterwards smooth, dark green on the upper and greyish green on the lower surface; the long slender petioles, much flattened towards the outer end, allow of free lateral motion by the lightest breeze, giving the foliage its well-known tremulous character. By their friction on each other the leaves give rise to a rustling sound. It is supposed that the mulberry trees (Becaim) mentioned in 1 Chronicles xiv. 14, 15 were really aspen trees. The flowers, which appear in March and April, are borne on pendulous hairy catkins, 2-3 in. long; male and female catkins are, as in the other species of the genus, on distinct trees.

The aspen is found in moist places, sometimes at a considerable elevation, 1600 ft. or more, in Scotland. It is an abundant tree in the northern parts of Britain, even as far as Sutherland, and is occasionally found in the coppices of the southern counties, but in these latter habitats seldom reaches any large size; throughout northern Europe it abounds in the forests,—in Lapland flourishing even in 70° N. lat., while in Siberia its range extends to the Arctic Circle; in Norway its upper limit is said to coincide with that of the pine; trees exist near the western coast having stems 15 ft. in circumference. The wood of the aspen is very light and soft, though tough; it is employed by coopers, chiefly for pails and herring-casks; it is also made into butchers’ trays, pack-saddles, and various articles for which its lightness recommends it; sabots are also made of it in France, and in medieval days it was valued for arrows, especially for those used in target practice; the bark is used for tanning in northern countries; cattle and deer browse greedily on the young shoots and abundant suckers. Aspen wood makes but indifferent fuel, but charcoal prepared from it is light and friable, and has been employed in gunpowder manufacture. The powdered bark is sometimes given to horses as a vermifuge; it possesses likewise tonic and febrifugal properties, containing a considerable amount of salicin. The aspen is readily propagated either by cuttings or suckers, but has been but little planted of late years in Britain. P. trepida, or tremuloides, is closely allied to the European aspen, being chiefly distinguished by its more pointed leaves; it is a native of most parts of Canada and the United States, extending northwards as far as Great Slave Lake. The wood is soft and neither strong nor durable; it burns better in the green state than that of most trees, and is often used by the hunters of the North-West as fuel; split into thin layers, it was formerly employed in the United States for bonnet and hat making. It is largely manufactured into wood-pulp for paper-making. The bark is of some value as a tonic and febrifuge. P. grandidentata, the large-leaved American aspen, has ovate or roundish leaves deeply and irregularly serrated on the margin. The wood is light, soft and close-grained, but not strong. In northern New England and Canada it is largely manufactured into wood-pulp; it is occasionally used in turnery and for wooden-ware.