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SubalpineLarch 7735tl.jpg
Larix lyallii in autumn
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Division: Pinophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales
Family: Pinaceae
Subfamily: Laricoideae
Genus: Larix
Type species
Larix decidua

About 10–11; see text

Larches are deciduous conifers in the genus Larix, of the family Pinaceae (subfamily Laricoideae). Growing from 20 to 45 metres (65 to 150 feet) tall, [1] they are native to much of the cooler temperate northern hemisphere, on lowlands in the north and high on mountains further south. Larches are among the dominant plants in the boreal forests of Siberia and Canada. Although they are conifers, larches are deciduous trees that lose their needles in the autumn.



The English name Larch ultimately derives from the Latin "larigna," named after the ancient settlement of Larignum. The story of its naming was preserved by Vitruvius:

It is worth while to know how this wood was discovered. The divine Caesar, being with his army in the neighbourhood of the Alps, and having ordered the towns to furnish supplies, the inhabitants of a fortified stronghold there, called Larignum, trusting in the natural strength of their defences, refused to obey his command. So the general ordered his forces to the assault. In front of the gate of this stronghold there was a tower, made of beams of this wood laid in alternating directions at right angles to each other, like a funeral pyre, and built high, so that they could drive off an attacking party by throwing stakes and stones from the top. When it was observed that they had no other missiles than stakes, and that these could not be hurled very far from the wall on account of the weight, orders were given to approach and to throw bundles of brushwood and lighted torches at this outwork. These the soldiers soon got together.

The flames soon kindled the brushwood which lay about that wooden structure and, rising towards heaven, made everybody think that the whole pile had fallen. But when the fire had burned itself out and subsided, and the tower appeared to view entirely uninjured, Caesar in amazement gave orders that they should be surrounded with a palisade, built beyond the range of missiles. So the townspeople were frightened into surrendering, and were then asked where that wood came from which was not harmed by fire. They pointed to trees of the kind under discussion, of which there are very great numbers in that vicinity. And so, as that stronghold was called Larignum, the wood was called larch.

"Book II"  . Ten Books on Architecture via Wikisource.

Description and distribution

European larch foliage and cones Larix decidua0.jpg
European larch foliage and cones

The tallest species, Larix occidentalis, can reach 50 to 60 m (165 to 195 ft). The larch's tree crown is sparse and the branches are brought horizontal to the stem, even if some species have them characteristically pendulous. Larch shoots are dimorphic, with leaves borne singly on long shoots typically 10 to 50 cm (4 to 20 in) long [2] :47 and bearing several buds, and in dense clusters of 20–50 needles on short shoots [2] only 1–2 mm (132332 in) long with only a single bud. The leaves (light green) are needle-like, 2 to 5 cm (34 to 2 in) long, slender (under 1 cm or 12 in wide). Larches are among the few deciduous conifers, which are usually evergreen. Other deciduous conifers include the golden larch Pseudolarix amabilis , the dawn redwood Metasequoia glyptostroboides , the Chinese swamp cypress Glyptostrobus pensilis and the bald cypresses in the genus Taxodium . The male flowers (small cones) are orange-yellowish and fall after pollination. The female flowers (or cones) of larches are erect, small, 1–9 cm (123+12 in) long, green or purple, brown in ripening and lignify (called now strobilus) 5–8 months after pollination; in about half the species the bract scales are long and visible, and in the others, short and hidden between the seed scales. Those native to northern regions have small cones (1–3 cm or 12–1 in) with short bracts, with more southerly species tending to have longer cones (3–9 cm or 1+143+12 in), often with exserted bracts, with the longest cones and bracts produced by the southernmost species, in the Himalayas. The seeds are winged. The larches are streamlined trees, the root system are broad and deep and the bark is finely cracked and wrinkled in irregular plaques. The wood is bicolor, with salmon pink heartwood and yellowish white sapwood. The chromosome number is 2n = 24, similar to that of most of the other trees of the family Pinaceae.

The genus Larix is present in all the temperate-cold zones of the northern hemisphere, from North America to northern Siberia passing through Europe, mountainous China and Japan. The larches are important forest trees of Russia, Central Europe, United States and Canada. They require a cool and fairly humid climate and for this reason they are found in the mountains of the temperate zones, while in the northernmost boreal zones ones they are also found in the plain. At gen. Larix belong to the trees that go further north than all, reaching in the North America and Siberia the tundra and polar ice. The larches are pioneer species not very demanding towards the soil and they are very long-lived trees. They live in pure or mixed forests together with other conifers or more rarely broad-leaved trees.

Species and taxonomy

In the past, the cone bract length was often used to divide the larches into two sections (sect. Larix with short bracts, and sect. Multiserialis with long bracts), but genetic evidence [3] does not support this division, pointing instead to a genetic divide between Old World and New World species, with the cone and bract size being merely adaptations to climatic conditions. More recent genetic studies have proposed three groups within the genus, with a primary division into North American and Eurasian species, and a secondary division of the Eurasian into northern short-bracted species and southern long-bracted species; [4] there is some dispute over the position of Larix sibirica, a short-bracted species which is placed in the short-bracted group by some of the studies and the long-bracted group by others. The genus Larix belongs to the subfamily Laricoideae, which also includes the genera Pseudotsuga and Cathaya .

There are eleven (or ten, see L. czekanowskii) accepted species of larch subdivided on the basis of the most recent phylogenetic investigations: [5]

North American species

Larch forest in the North Cascades Raven Ridge - Flickr - brewbooks (2).jpg
Larch forest in the North Cascades
Range map of Larix laricina Larix laricina range map.jpg
Range map of Larix laricina

Eurasian species

Siberian larches Nature in Khanty-Mansiya.jpg
Siberian larches

Northern Eurasian species with short bracts

Southern Euroasiatic species with long bracts

European larch in the Italian Alps Arancione.jpg
European larch in the Italian Alps


Most if not all of the species can be hybridised in cultivation. Currently-accepted hybrids are: [5]

A well-known hybrid, the Dunkeld larch Larix × marschlinsii, arose more or less simultaneously in Switzerland and Scotland when L. decidua and L. kaempferi hybridised when planted together, is still treated as unresolved. [5] Larix × stenophylla Sukaczev is another probable hybrid still unresolved.

Larch is used as a food plant by the larvae of a number of Lepidoptera species — see list of Lepidoptera that feed on larches.


Larches are prone to the fungal canker disease Lachnellula ssp. (larch canker); this is particularly a problem on sites prone to late spring frosts, which cause minor injuries to the tree allowing entry to the fungal spores. In Canada, this disease was first detected in 1980 and is particularly harmful to an indigenous species larch, the tamarack, killing both young and mature trees. [6] Larches are also vulnerable to Phytophthora ramorum . In late 2009 the disease was first found in Japanese larch trees in the English counties of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, and has since spread to the south-west of Scotland. [7] In August 2010 the disease was found in Japanese larch trees in counties Waterford and Tipperary in Ireland [8] and in 2013 in the Afan Forest Park in south Wales. [9] Laricifomes officinalis is another mushroom found in Europe, North America and northern Asia that causes internal wood rot. It is almost exclusive guest of the gen. Larix. Other diseases are given by mushrooms, fungal rusts, bacteria and insects.


Larch wood is valued for its tough, waterproof and durable qualities. Top quality knot-free timber is in great demand for building yachts and other small boats, for exterior cladding of buildings, and interior paneling. The timber is resistant to rot when in contact with the ground, and is suitable for use as posts and in fencing. The hybrid Dunkeld larch is widely grown as a timber crop in Northern Europe, valued for its fast growth and disease resistance. (EN 350-2 lists larch as slightly to moderately durable; this would make it unsuitable for ground contact use without preservative in temperate climates, and would give it a limited life as external cladding without coatings.) [10]

Larch on oak was the traditional construction method for Scottish fishing boats in the 19th century. Larch has also been used in herbal medicine; see Bach flower remedies and Arabinogalactan for details.

In Central Europe larch is viewed as one of the best wood materials for the building of residences.[ citation needed ] Planted on borders with birch, both tree species were used in pagan cremations.[ citation needed ] Larches are often used in bonsai culture, where their knobby bark, small needles, fresh spring foliage, and – especially – autumn colour are appreciated. European larch, Japanese larch, and Tamarack larch are the species most commonly trained as bonsai. The edible larch boletes grow in symbiotic association with larch trees.

Often, in Eurasian shamanism, the "world tree" is depicted as specifically a larch tree. [11]

Related Research Articles

Conifer Division of plants including extinct and current conifers

Conifers are a group of cone-bearing seed plants, a subset of gymnosperms. Scientifically, they make up the division Pinophyta, also known as Coniferophyta or Coniferae. The division contains a single extant class, Pinopsida. All extant conifers are perennial woody plants with secondary growth. The great majority are trees, though a few are shrubs. Examples include cedars, Douglas-firs, cypresses, firs, junipers, kauri, larches, pines, hemlocks, redwoods, spruces, and yews. As of 1998, the division Pinophyta was estimated to contain eight families, 68 genera, and 629 living species.

Spruce Genus of evergreen, coniferous tree

A spruce is a tree of the genus Picea, a genus of about 35 species of coniferous evergreen trees in the family Pinaceae, found in the northern temperate and boreal (taiga) regions of the Earth. Picea is the sole genus in the subfamily Piceoideae. Spruces are large trees, from about 20–60 m tall when mature, and have whorled branches and conical form. They can be distinguished from other members of the pine family by their needles (leaves), which are four-sided and attached singly to small persistent peg-like structures on the branches, and by their cones, which hang downwards after they are pollinated. The needles are shed when 4–10 years old, leaving the branches rough with the retained pegs. In other similar genera, the branches are fairly smooth.

Pinaceae Family of conifers

The Pinaceae, pine family, are trees or shrubs, including many of the well-known conifers of commercial importance such as cedars, firs, hemlocks, larches, pines and spruces. The family is included in the order Pinales, formerly known as Coniferales. Pinaceae are supported as monophyletic by their protein-type sieve cell plastids, pattern of proembryogeny, and lack of bioflavonoids. They are the largest extant conifer family in species diversity, with between 220 and 250 species in 11 genera, and the second-largest in geographical range, found in most of the Northern Hemisphere, with the majority of the species in temperate climates, but ranging from subarctic to tropical. The family often forms the dominant component of boreal, coastal, and montane forests. One species, Pinus merkusii, grows just south of the equator in Southeast Asia. Major centres of diversity are found in the mountains of southwest China, Mexico, central Japan, and California.

Conifer cone Reproductive organ on conifers

Seed-bearing organ on gymnosperm plants. A type of fruit, usually woody, ovoid to globular, including scales, bracts, or bracteoles arranged around a central axis, especially in conifers and cycads. A cone is an organ on plants in the division Pinophyta (conifers) that contains the reproductive structures. The familiar woody cone is the female cone, which produces seeds. The male cone, which produces pollen, is usually herbaceous and much less conspicuous even at full maturity. The name "cone" derives from Greek konos (pinecone), which also gave name to the geometric cone. The individual plates of a cone are known as scales.

<i>Larix laricina</i> A species of larch native to Canada

Larix laricina, commonly known as the tamarack, hackmatack, eastern larch, black larch, red larch, or American larch, is a species of larch native to Canada, from eastern Yukon and Inuvik, Northwest Territories east to Newfoundland, and also south into the upper northeastern United States from Minnesota to Cranesville Swamp, West Virginia; there is also an isolated population in central Alaska. The word akemantak is an Algonquian name for the species and means "wood used for snowshoes".

<i>Pseudolarix amabilis</i> Species of deciduous conifers in the family Pinaceae

Pseudolarix amabilis, commonly called golden larch, is a species of coniferous trees in the pine family Pinaceae. The species are commonly known as golden larch, but being more closely related to Keteleeria, Abies and Cedrus, are not true larches (Larix). P. amabilis is native to eastern China, occurring in small areas in the mountains of southern Anhui, Zhejiang, Fujian, Jiangxi, Hunan, Hubei and eastern Sichuan, at altitudes of 100–1,500 m (328–4,921 ft). The earliest known occurrences are of compression fossils found in the Ypresian Allenby Formation and mummified fossils found in the Late Eocene Buchanan Lake Formation on Axel Heiberg Island.

<i>Larix decidua</i> Species of conifer in the pine family Pinaceae

Larix decidua, the 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. It is widely naturalized in Scandinavia. Its life span has been confirmed to be close to 1000 years but is more often around 200 years. It is claimed that one of the larches planted by the second Duke of Atholl at Dunkeld in 1738 is still standing.

<i>Pseudolarix</i> Genus of deciduous conifers in the family Pinaceae

Pseudolarix is a genus of coniferous trees in the pine family Pinaceae containing three species, the extant Pseudolarix amabilis and the extinct species Pseudolarix japonica and Pseudolarix wehrii. Pseudolarix species are commonly known as golden larch, but are not true larches (Larix) being more closely related to Keteleeria, Abies and Cedrus. P. amabilis is native to eastern China, occurring in small areas in the mountains of southern Anhui, Zhejiang, Fujian, Jiangxi, Hunan, Hubei and eastern Sichuan, at altitudes of 100–1,500 m (328–4,921 ft). P. wehrii is described from fossils dating to the Early Eocene, Ypresian, of Western North America where it is found in the Eocene Okanagan Highlands Allenby and Klondike Mountain Formations. The youngest known occurrence is of mummified fossils found in the Late Eocene Buchanan Lake Formation on Axel Heiberg Island. P. japonica is known from Middle Miocene to Pliocene sediments in Japan and Miocene deposits of Korea. Fossils assigned to Pseudolarix as a genus date possibly as old as the Early Cretaceous Hauterivian stage in Mongolia.

The International Larix Arboretum is a small arboretum of 1.2 acres (4,900 m2) dedicated to the scientific study of the larch (Larix) species. It is located within the Coram Experimental Forest, 30 yards SE of the Hungry Horse Ranger station at 10 Hungry Horse Drive Hungry Horse, Montana. The Arboretum is open to the public, without charge, during daylight hours from April to October.

<i>Larix lyallii</i> Species of conifer

Larix lyallii, the subalpine larch, or simply alpine larch, is a deciduous, coniferous tree native to northwestern North America. It lives at high altitudes—1,800 to 2,400 m —in the Rocky Mountains of Idaho, Montana, British Columbia, and Alberta. There is a disjunct population in the Cascade Range of Washington.

Western larch Species of conifer

The western larch is a species of larch native to the mountains of western North America ; in Canada in southeastern British Columbia and southwestern Alberta, and in the United States in eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, northern Idaho, and western Montana. It is the most productive of the three species of larch native to North America.

<i>Larix kaempferi</i> Species of conifer in the pine family Pinaceae

Larix kaempferi, the Japanese larch or karamatsu (唐松) in Japanese, is a species of larch native to Japan, in the mountains of Chūbu and Kantō regions in central Honshū.

<i>Larix sibirica</i> Species of conifer

Larix sibirica, the Siberian larch or Russian larch, is a frost-hardy tree native to western Russia, from close to the Finnish border east to the Yenisei valley in central Siberia, where it hybridises with the Dahurian larch L. gmelinii of eastern Siberia; the hybrid is known as Larix × czekanowskii.

<i>Larix gmelinii</i> Species of conifer

Larix gmelinii, the Dahurian larch or Gmelin larch, is a species of larch native to eastern Siberia and adjacent northeastern Mongolia, northeastern China (Heilongjiang) and North Korea.

<i>Larix griffithii</i> Species of conifer

Larix griffithii, the Sikkim larch, is a species of larch, native to the eastern Himalaya in eastern Nepal, Sikkim, western Bhutan and southwestern China (Xizang), growing at 1800–4100 m altitude.

The plant pathogenic fungus Leucostoma kunzei is the causal agent of Leucostoma canker, a disease of spruce trees found in the Northern Hemisphere, predominantly on Norway spruce and Colorado blue spruce. This disease is one of the most common and detrimental stem diseases of Picea species in the northeastern United States, yet it also affects other coniferous species. Rarely does it kill its host tree; however, the disease does disfigure by killing host branches and causing resin exudation from perennial lesions on branches or trunks.

<i>Abies forrestii</i> Species of conifer

Abies forrestii is a species of conifer in the family Pinaceae, endemic to China. It is named after the Scottish botanist and plant-hunter George Forrest (1873–1932), who discovered it for western science in Yunnan province. Its common names include Forrest's fir.

Coniferous swamp

Coniferous swamps are forested wetlands in which the dominant trees are lowland conifers such as northern white cedar. The soil in these swamp areas is typically saturated for most of the growing season and is occasionally inundated by seasonal storms or by winter snow melt.

Laricoideae Subfamily of plants

The Laricoideae are a subfamily of the Pinaceae, a Pinophyta division family. They take their name from the genus Larix (larches), which contains inside most of the species of the group and is one of only two deciduous genera of the pines complex. Ecologically important trees, the Laricoideae form pure or mixed forest associations often dominant in the ecosystems in which they are present, thanks also to their biological adaptations to natural disturbances, to reproductive strategies put in place and high average longevity of the individuals. Currently are assigned to this subfamily three genera and its members can be found only in Northern Hemisphere. The various species live for the most part in temperate or cold climates and are the more northerly conifers; some constitute an important source of timber and non-timber forest products.

<i>Pseudolarix wehrii</i> Extinct species of conifer

Pseudolarix wehrii is an extinct species of golden larch in the pine family (Pinaceae). The species is known from early Eocene fossils of northern Washington state, United States, and southern British Columbia, Canada, along with late Eocene mummified fossils found in the Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada.



  1. Rushforth 1986
  2. 1 2 Stace, C. A. (2010). New Flora of the British Isles (Third ed.). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. ISBN   9780521707725.
  3. Gernandt & Liston 1999
  4. Semerikov & Lascoux 1999; Wei and Wang 2003, 2004; Gros-Louis et al. 2005
  5. 1 2 3 "The Plant List - species in Larix". London: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 2013. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  6. European larch canker Natural Resources Canada, accessed 23 April 2021
  7. "Find a specific tree pest or disease". GOV.UK.[ failed verification ]
  8. "Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine".[ failed verification ]
  9. "Thousands of Afan Forest trees planted after infected larch". BBC. 21 February 2015. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  10. European Standard EN 350-2 (1994); Durability of Wood and Wood-based Products – Natural Durability of Solid Wood: Guide to natural durability and treatability of selected wood species of importance in Europe
  11. Stutley, Margaret. Shamanism : An Introduction. London: Routledge, 2003. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 3 Nov. 2015.


Further reading