Quiz time: What is the largest living organism on the planet? Elephant? (Nope) Blue whale? (Nope) Redwood tree? (Nope, but you are closer.) The largest living organism in the world is… the mighty and majestic Aspen tree! (I’m serious.) To be specific, the largest living organism in the world is a group of Aspen trees that cover over 200 acres around Salt Lake City, Utah. The trees (nicknamed “Pando,” which means, “I spread”) have more than 47,000 stems, weigh more than 6,600 tons and are estimated to be thousands of years old as a system of trees.
They are considered to be the same organism because of how Aspens reproduce. While the trees do use seeds and pollen, they most often reproduce by cloning, meaning that hundreds and thousands of trees often sprout off suckers from the same parent. Scientists who have tested the trees have found that they are all genetically identical and sprout off the roots of other trees in the same system.
The implications for survival are interesting. New trees are protected by the grove. Young trees get their nutrients from the parent tree until they are well-established. In addition, the grove protects itself from disaster. A fire can actually be a good thing for Aspens. While the fire wipes out different types of trees, the Aspens lose trees but maintain a root system underground. The opportunistic Aspens quickly move into the burned area and replace the other trees. As they grow from the main root system, the new trees take advantage of the nutrients released into the soil by all the burned vegetation.
As I’m writing this article, I have an email in my inbox from a Christian woman in Afghanistan. She has been suffering through persecution as a result of sharing her faith, so she reached out to her network of Christian friends this evening to ask for prayer. The people on her distribution list live all over the world, speak different languages, perform different types of ministries…but as I watch my inbox, I can see that they are stopping everything to respond to her need with prayer and an encouraging email. I know that they will continue to lift her up in prayer for the days and weeks ahead.
Maybe that makes Christians a little like the Aspen tree. The resiliency of the Aspen comes from its underground network of roots. Our resiliency comes first from God and then from the strength of our network of Christian friends and prayer partners. New believers can gain wisdom and godly counsel from more mature believers. When disaster strikes, we can cover a Christian brother or sister with the protection of prayer. We can point out opportunities that they may not have noticed or feed them information and resources to help solve their problems. If we are close by, we can lend material and physical help, as well.
There is incredible power in our inter-connectedness….if we use it. Too often, we try to fix our own problems. We put on a brave face and mentally minimize the struggles we are going through. But God created us for relationship, for interdependence rather than independence. It’s possible that God is allowing the difficulty in our life or in our ministry specifically to force us to reach out and lean on others for help. When we do, a disaster becomes a blessing, and we come back spiritually stronger than before.
Come to think of it, the largest living organism on the planet isn’t the Aspen tree; it’s the Body of Christ.