June 1, 2022

Australia’s claim on “world’s largest plant” has Colorado defending its title hold

A new scientific report about the “world’s largest plant” being identified off the coast of Australia prompted a response Wednesday from Gov. Jared Polis, who claims that a Colorado aspen grove shares that title along with another aspen grove in Utah.

“Genetic analysis has revealed that the underwater fields of waving green seagrass are a single organism covering 70 square miles (180 square kilometers) through making copies of itself over 4,500 years,” according to the Associated Press.

Research on the cloning seagrass was published Wednesday in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Polis on Wednesday was quick to defend long-made claims about a couple of aspen groves in Colorado and Utah as being the largest plants in the world.

“Australia is vainly professing that a self-cloning underwater seagrass forest is even larger than Colorado’s world-class Aspen groves. We don’t know what’s going on down under but up at our elevation we know Colorado’s gorgeous Aspen groves are a sight to behold and are the world’s largest plant,” Polis said in a news release.

A view of fall colors at Kebler Pass, which is consider the largest aspen grove in the U.S. (Provided by Dan Madden)

Provided by Dan Madden

A view of fall colors at Kebler Pass, which is considered the largest aspen grove in the U.S.

Polis points out that Utah’s Pando Aspen Grove is 106 acres and that “Colorado’s famed Kebler Pass Aspen Grove, located in the West Elk Mountains near Crested Butte, is possibly even larger.”

Aspen groves are connected through a common root system, Polis argues, and “each tree is akin to a shoot coming out from the same, vast underground organism.”

The governor’s office offered the following in defense of the aspen grove in the argument:

  • Many patches of their seagrass, while genetically identical, are not in fact connected to one another and are therefore separate organisms with the same genetics.
  • The overall size of an organism must also factor in mass, not just the area covered, and Aspen trees and root systems are more massive than wispy seagrasses.
  • According to reports, researchers “detected some very subtle mutations in the plant’s genetics across the places it was growing” further confirming that the seagrass is not one, single plant organism.

Scientists call the meadow of Poseidon’s ribbon weed off the coast of Australia “the most widespread known clone on Earth,” covering an area larger than Washington, according to the the Associated Press.

Over the last decade, the seagrass covered an additional 7 square miles, but rising ocean temperatures and cyclones, linked to climate change, have killed about 10% of the ancient seagrass bed.

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