Photographing the 'world’s largest tree’

Lance Oditt/Friends of Pando
(Image credit: Lance Oditt/Friends of Pando)
Meet the pro: Lance Oditt

Lance Oditt/Friends of Pando

(Image credit: Lance Oditt/Friends of Pando)

Lance Oditt runs a fine art and documentary studio based in Seattle, Washington. He takes photographs to stir a deeper awareness for the possibilities of the natural world and a sense of stewardship towards it.

High in the Fish Lake Basin of Central Utah stands Pando, the world’s largest tree; an aspen-clone that spreads over 47 hectares of the Fishlake National Forest. Born of a single seed laid down some time in the last 12,000 years, Pando, whose name means ‘I spread’, wasn’t discovered until 1976. 

It took another 36 years and advances in genetic research to verify that each ‘trunk’ of the Pando is one of 47,000 genetically identical branches of a single tree; each part working to balance energy production, defense and regeneration.

According to researchers and land managers I’ve worked with while documenting Pando, that balance is threatened by policies put in place before its discovery. Now, as we are just learning about this organism, we are also witnessing its decline. We lack a photographic record of Pando, which could be used to understand the tree and monitor its health for generations to come. 

(Image credit: Lance Oditt/Friends of Pando)

The Pando Photographic Survey will provide that record. Utilising an array of Insta360 Pro cameras, I will lead 20 citizen-scientists working with Friends of Pando, to record over 8,000 locations within the tree. Friends of Pando will process the record and make it freely available for study. We will also use the images to take Pando to the world, so people can walk its expanses online while they learn about it at ‘trail stops’. 

As the world’s largest organism, Pando’s size appeals to our sense of wonder. Research has shown immersive experiences with nature are critical to cultivating awareness and inspiring stewardship. To that end, Friends of Pando will create the ‘virtual’ Pando, overlaying Pando onto other locations where people can travel its expanse via their mobile devices.

Friends of Pando is working to educate the public about the tree, support researchers and inspire stewardship (Image credit: Lance Oditt/Friends of Pando)

As Pando is a lifeform that radically transforms human ideas about what trees can be and the possibilities of life, the combined effort of this multimedia project resonates with an apt metaphor: creating connections. 

In a period in history when isolation and fear of the unknown have gripped our collective imagination, it is our hope that this photography effort will not only promote awareness and inspire stewardship, but serve as a useful reminder and, hopefully, an invitation to connect.

To learn more, visit

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