|European larch in l'A Bran, (1798 m) Val d'Annivier.|
Larix decidua, common name European larch, is a species of larch native to the mountains of central Europe, in the Alps and Carpathian Mountains as well as the Pyrenees, 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. It is claimed that one of the larches planted by the second Duke of Atholl at Dunkeld in 1738 is still standing.
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. John Evelyn encouraged its wider planting and use. Three successive Dukes of Atholl planted it widely and the fourth Duke wrote "Observations on Larch" in 1807 encouraging further its cultivation, which he practiced on a large scale.
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. European larch can grow on drier soils and tolerate warmer climates than the native tamarack, being better suited to non-boreal climates.
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.
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.
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.
- Parkinson, Paradisus
- The Gardener's Dictionary, Vol.1, Philip Miller, 1835
- A History of British Forest-trees: Indigenous and Introduced, Prideaux John Selby, 1842
- The Philosophical Magazine and Journal, Vol. 53, 1819
- "Larix decidua". US Forest Service. Retrieved 13 July 2016.
- Perry, Leonard. "Larches Large and Small". University of Vermont Extension. Retrieved 13 July 2016.
- "Larix decidua". Royal Horticultural Society. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
- Matras, Jan; Pâques, Luc E. (2008). "European Larch, Larix decidua: Technical guidelines for genetic conservation and use" (PDF). EUFORGEN: European Forest Genetic Resources Programme.
- D'Cruz, Mark. "Ma-Ke Bonsai Care Guide for Larix decidua". Ma-Ke Bonsai. Retrieved 2011-07-08.
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- Conifer Specialist Group (1998). "Larix decidua". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2006. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 12 May 2006.