The seemingly eternal cycles of clonal growth in many tree species, with members of Populus (aspen, poplars, cottonwoods and the like) featuring most prominently, provoke a number of questions on the interface between ecology, genetics and forestry. In this issue, two groups present their approaches to clonal dynamics (Ally et al. 2008 and Mock et al. 2008), using microsatellite (or simple sequence repeat, SSR) variation in P. tremuloides. Ally et al. developed and applied a model for using microsatellites to estimate clone age and infer other community characteristics. Mock et al. used fewer microsatellites but in more individuals, to examine clone size and distribution across the landscape.