Why poplars rattle (056)

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Little more than a breath of wind is all it needs for a poplar’s canopy of leaves to start swaying.Try standing under this tree with your eyes shut and listen to the rustling of the leaves as they twist about. One type of poplar even rattles: the quaking or trembling aspen. There is a well-known saying: “to shake like an aspen leaf”. Have you ever wondered why this tree begins rattling and rustling in the lightest of breezes? Pride is the answer! Listen to this biblical tale:

There were roadblocks everywhere with soldiers checking travellers. King Herod was determined to put an end to the aspirations of the new King of Jews while still a baby. Hence why Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus’ flight was rife with dangers. That is also why the company kept to small country roads which offered them various hiding places.
The surprise attacks of the soldiers in rural areas caused Mary to fear for their lives. Fortunately, she knew she could rely on help from the trees and plants on their way. The weeping willows always bowed their branches at exactly the right moment making the family invisible for the patrols passing by.
The juniper trees provided them with numerous hiding places among their tough and gnarled ancient branches. Even the old weathered willows sheltered Mary in their dark hollowed out trunks.

One day a group of soldiers came very close. Shaking with fear Mary begged a tall poplar for help: “Please, dear poplar, shelter us from the approaching danger?” The stately poplar dismissed her request outright and crackled back at her: “I am far too tall to bow to the needs of just anyone!” In her dismay and terror Mary responded fiercely:”From this day on you will spend your life trembling and shaking from fear just as a I am doing right now.” At this Mary fled with her husband and child to the safety in the heart of softly waving reeds which closed around them, protecting them from the soldiers’ prying eyes. 

This is the real reason why ever since that day the slightest breeze is enough to make an aspen start to tremble and rattle.

Have you noticed how it sometimes ‘snows’ on the first summer days turning country roads white? It’s caused by the poplar’s female seed fluff. In The Netherlands and Flanders the long rows of tall poplars lining the roads are an intrinsic part of the landscape. Originally there were only the popular or trembling aspen. The Latin name for the tree is Pópulus trémula’;  trémula’ means trembling. After the Second World War, however, many black poplars were planted. In Spring the poplar is easy to recognize because it first turns russet-brown with the male catkins appearing before the leaves. In the dunes we mainly see silver poplars; their green leaves have a silver-white underside.

 

© Els Baars, Natuurverhalen.nl