Imagine that you are standing next to me, on a bright clear morning in late September. You and I are in Utah, just a little bit south of Fish Lake, and we are going to go search for the largest organism on earth!
His name is Pando, and words don't do justice in describing just how big he is. He's not elephantine, in fact he's larger than an entire herd of elephants. He's more than mammoth, he's much bigger than a wooly mammoth. He's not even leviathan because he's larger than any whale on earth.
But as big as Pando is, he's actually hard to see. He's hiding in plain sight. Look careful below and see if you can find him. I'll give you two hints to help you find him. The first hint is that you'll have to change your perspective in order to see him. The second hint is that his nick name is "The Trembling Giant".
Go ahead and take a look now and see if you can find him...
Did you find him? Pando is actually a very special type of clonal aspen grove where all of the trunks in the grove belong to the same individual Quaking Aspen tree. You've heard the phrase that someone "can't see the forest for the trees", well Pando is kind of the reverse of that, you can't see the tree for the forest in Pando's case. All of the aspen trunks that you see in this image is a small part of one organism.
You need to adjust your idea of what a tree is in order to see Pando. We typically think of a tree as having lots of roots, a single trunk, and lots of branches and leaves. But Pando is different. He has a huge mass of roots that cover over 100 acres. These roots send up shoots called suckers, and the shoots become new trunks. Pando has over 40,000 trunks, all connected to the same root system, all genetically identical, all part of the same individual.
There is a fungal organism that covers more area than Pando, but doesn't come close to the mass of Pando. Pando weighs in at over 13 million pounds, making him the largest organism on earth, as far as we know.
Pando is also extremely old, somewhere between 80,000 and 1,000,000 years old. Yet only in our lifetime has be been recognized as the world's largest organism. He's been hiding in plain sight because up until very recently we were unable to shift our perspective to see that over 40,000 trunks in the same grove belonged to a single tree. It makes you wonder what else we are missing until we learn to see the world differently.
Excerpted with permission from the upcoming Fall 2015 issue of Nature of the Wild