Leslie Rego, “Aspen Catkins,” nib pen and brush, sumi ink, watercolor.


Early spring can seem monochromatic, but there are gentle surprises. The aspen catkins are one of these early spring delights.

An aspen tree is either male or female and they usually reproduce through a complex root system generating numerous saplings in an aspen grove. All of these saplings are a clone from the original tree and, therefore, the same gender. If the first tree is a female, then all of the subsequent trees would also be female. In order for a new grove to be established there has to be both a male and female grove of aspen trees fairly close together.

Both the male and the female aspen tree reproduce catkins, but only the male catkins carry pollen. A gentle wind will carry the pollen to the female catkins for germination. Once the female is pollinated, she will release a multitude of seeds. Most seeds do not survive, but if they do, a new grove will be established, either male or female, which can last for hundreds of years.

Putting botany aside, the swaying catkins on an aspen tree are charming. The other evening, driving home from Ketchum, the catkins were backlit with the last of the evening light. They glowed like hundreds of springtime icicles dangling from the aspen trees. The catkins are downy with many tiny wisps of hair along a tubular shape and each wisp caught the light and glimmered. The catkins cluster on the trees, with two to five tubular shapes hanging together. Up close, they look like fuzzy white caterpillars clinging to the branch.

An aspen tree can have thousands of clustered catkins hanging throughout the tree. The male catkins turn pale yellow as they shed their pollen. The female catkins eventually turn green. You can look around and see whether a particular aspen grove is male or female. The flowering and the dispersing of the seeds all happen before the leaves unfurl and it is one of the gentle early spring delights.

Leslie Rego is an artist and Blaine County resident. To view more of Rego’s art, visit