Larix decidua

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Larix decidua
European larch
L'A de Bran, (1798 m) Val d'Anniviers. Europese larix (Larix decidua) 01.JPG
European larch in l'A Bran, (1798 m) Val d'Annivier.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Pinophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales
Family: Pinaceae
Genus: Larix
Species: L. decidua
Binomial name
Larix decidua
Larix decidua range.svg

Larix decidua, common name European larch, is a species of larch native to the mountains of central Europe, in the Alps and Carpathian Mountains, with disjunct lowland populations in northern Poland and southern Lithuania. Its life span is given by different authorities as anything between 100 and 350 years, but the most reliable is normally about 200 years.[1] It is claimed that one of the larches planted by the second Duke of Atholl at Dunkeld in 1738 is still standing.[2]


European larch morphology features from book: Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz, 1885, Gera, Germany.

Larix decidua is a medium-size to large deciduous coniferous tree reaching 25–45 m tall, with a trunk up to 1 m diameter (exceptionally, to 55 m tall and 2 m diameter). The crown is conic when young, becoming broad with age; the main branches are level to upswept, with the side branches often pendulous. The shoots are dimorphic, with growth divided into long shoots (typically 10–50 cm long) and bearing several buds, and short shoots only 1–2 mm long with only a single bud. The leaves are needle-like, light green, 2–4 cm long which turn bright yellow before they fall in the autumn, leaving the pale yellow-buff shoots bare until the next spring.

The cones are erect, ovoid-conic, 2–6 cm long, with 10-90 erect or slightly incurved (not reflexed) seed scales; they are green variably flushed red when immature, turning brown and opening to release the seeds when mature, 4–6 months after pollination. The old cones commonly remain on the tree for many years, turning dull grey-black.

It is very cold tolerant, able to survive winter temperatures down to at least -50 °C, and is among the tree line trees in the Alps, reaching 2400 m altitude, though most abundant from 1000–2000 m. It only grows on well-drained soils, avoiding waterlogged ground and is not shade tolerant.


It is thought to have been first cultivated in Britain in 1629.[3] John Evelyn encouraged its wider planting and use.[4] Three successive Dukes of Atholl planted it widely[5] and the fourth Duke wrote "Observations on Larch" in 1807 encouraging further its cultivation, which he practiced on a large scale.[6]

European larch is widely cultivated in southern Canada and the northeastern United States. It has been naturalized in Maine, Michigan, New York, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island. In the northern Appalachian Mountains it is often used for the reforestation of surface mines.[7] European larch can grow on drier soils and tolerate warmer climates than the native tamarack, being better suited to non-boreal climates.[8]


There are two subspecies:

  • Larix decidua subsp. decidua - European larch or Alpine larch. Most of the range, except as below. Cones 2.5–6 cm; shoots yellow-buff.
  • Larix decidua subsp. polonica - Polish larch. Disjunct in lowland northern Poland. Cones 2–3 cm; shoots very pale yellow-buff, almost white.


L. decidua is cultivated as an ornamental tree for planting in gardens and parks.[9]


The wood is tough and durable, but also flexible in thin strips, and is particularly valued for yacht building; wood used for this must be free of knots, and can only be obtained from old trees that were pruned when young to remove side branches.

Small larch poles are widely used for rustic fencing.


Because of its fast juvenile growth and its pioneer character, larch has found numerous applications in forestry and agroforestry. It is used as a ‘preparatory species’ to afforest open land, abandoned farmland or disturbed land and as a ‘nurse species’ prior to the introduction of more demanding species.[10]


The European larch is a popular bonsai species, with many unique specimens available in European circles, and is popularly used in bonsai forest groups.[11]


The seeds are an important food for some birds, notably siskin, lesser redpoll and citril finch, while the buds and immature cones are eaten by capercaillie.

See also List of Lepidoptera that feed on larches

European larch needles are the only known food for caterpillars of the case-bearer moth Coleophora sibiricella; its cone scales are used as food by the caterpillars of the tortrix moth Cydia illutana.

Invasive species[edit]

L. decidua is classed as a wilding conifer, an invasive species which spreads into the high country of New Zealand. It was planted by the New Zealand Forest Service for erosion control.

Larix decidua[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Parkinson, Paradisus
  4. ^ The Gardener's Dictionary, Vol.1, Philip Miller, 1835
  5. ^ A History of British Forest-trees: Indigenous and Introduced, Prideaux John Selby, 1842
  6. ^ The Philosophical Magazine and Journal, Vol. 53, 1819
  7. ^ "Larix decidua". US Forest Service. Retrieved 13 July 2016. 
  8. ^ Perry, Leonard. "Larches Large and Small". University of Vermont Extension. Retrieved 13 July 2016. 
  9. ^ "Larix decidua". Royal Horticultural Society. Retrieved 23 July 2013. 
  10. ^ Matras, Jan; Pâques, Luc E. (2008). "European Larch, Larix decidua" (PDF). Technical guidlines for genetic conservation and use. 
  11. ^ D'Cruz, Mark. "Ma-Ke Bonsai Care Guide for Larix decidua". Ma-Ke Bonsai. Retrieved 2011-07-08. 

External links[edit]