Most mornings I trek up a small hill overlooking Strathdevon and one of the joys of the walk is a small group of aspen trees growing by the side of the path.

At first glance these trees appear rather unremarkable, but looks can be deceptive, for when the wind blows something quite remarkable happens; the leaves begin to tremble and quiver in delightful fashion. Indeed, the Latin name, Populas tremula, means ‘trembling poplar’ and to sit by one and listen to the wind rustling through the leaves is really quite addictive.

The early 20th century poet Edward Thomas eloquently wrote of how the ‘the whisper of the aspens’ could not even be subdued by the ‘ringing of hammer’ and the ‘clink and ‘hum’ emanating from a local blacksmith.

Folklore states that this trembling of the leaves was an indication of some secret guilt – most likely because it was believed to be the wood used to make the cross on which Christ was crucified. One book I came across on Celtic traditions said the ‘aspen tree was particularly loathed’ because it ‘had haughtily held up its head while all the others in the forest had bowed down, proud that it had been chosen by the enemies of Christ as the wood for the cross’.

The leaf stalks of the aspen are quite long and flattened; a combination that makes the leaves flutter so easily in the breeze. I like these Strathdevon aspens for other reasons too, and the chances are that at least one of them will hold foraging blue or great tits whenever I pass.

Like the birch or the rowan, the aspen is very much a pioneering tree that is among the first to colonise new areas of open ground, often where the soil is poor such as in hilly areas.

This means they are important ecologically because they help to enrich the land through their shed leaves, thus preparing the way for other types of tree such as oak that are much fussier in their requirements.