What’s the world’s largest organism? The blue whale, right? What if we told you there exists an organism that’s 40 times heavier than the largest blue whale? A terrifying thought that doubtlessly brings to mind giant city-flattening monsters, but the world’s single largest organism is not Godzilla, it’s a tree grove.
Meet Pando, a male quaking aspen located in Fishlake National Forest in Utah. Pando covers 106 acres, weighs about 6,000,000 tons and consists of about 40,000 tree trunks. Except what appears to be individual trees are all one and the same: Pando.
But how can a grove be a single tree? Quaking aspens have a unique reproduction system: mature trees send out roots that, under the right condition sprout into a tree, which repeats the process until a whole colony forms. All members of this grove share the same genetic code, making them clones of one another, but more importantly, they share the same root system, making them a single living creature.
While the individual tree trunks of Pando age and die, others can take their place, making Pando functionally immortal. While the average age of Pando’s individual trees is 130 years (not an age to scoff at, either), its root system is much, much older. Conservative estimates of the roots’ age place it at 80,000 years old, while some argue that it is even more ancient than that, at about a million years old.
Sadly, the venerable tree seems to have stopped growing and is now considered to be dying. The main reason for Pando’s impending doom, predictably, is human interference. Humans have allowed an unregulated population growth in cattle and deer (by farming and by killing off potential predators, respectively) has caused a serious grazing problem which makes it impossible for Pando to sprout new saplings.