What is a larch tree?

Larix decidua – European Larch tree 1.5m tall

How can I expect delivery from King & Co?

Overnight to your door

We can delivery to you anywhere in England and Wales via an overnight courier service (two days for Scotland & Ireland).

Via Online Shop

Orders placed via our Online shop if placed by 12 noon Monday –Thursday can be delivered to you the very next day. If placed on a Friday – Sunday delivery would be on Tuesday.

We deliver by national overnight courier service.

Should you require a specific delivery date, let us know in advance and we will arrange for your delivery to arrive on your required date.

Every tree and plant is packed to ensure your order arrives safely.

For large trees or quantities of trees and plants

Please phone us to discuss, we are usually able to deliver to you via a dedicated vehicle.

For local deliveries

We will deliver to you in our local area and we will be pleased to arrange this with you whilst you are visiting our Nursery or via the phone. We also provide a planting service.

Planting service

We have our own installation teams to carry out planting in Southern & Eastern England. Please call us to discuss, we are always happy to provide you a quotation.

Larix decidua Tree

The product table at the bottom of the page gives the forms and sizes available for this variety. Please note, photos are a guideline as all plants are unique. Below are definitions of terms:

Supplied Size: Height measured from the top of the pot.

Single Stem / Pruned and shaped: Classic shaped tree with a single stem that has had pruning to help create a beautiful, natural shape.

Top grafted: A height noted next to this form refers to the length of clear stem, which will not grow taller. Only the head of branches will develop. Top grafted trees do not require complicated pruning and are ideal for small spaces.

Feathered: A feathered tree has branches from the bottom of the trunk all the way up. These branches can be removed if a clear stem is required.

Multi Stem: A multi stem tree has two or more stems arising from or near ground level, growing from one root system. Take care to buy a true multi-stem like all ours and not those that are 3 saplings in a pot to cheaply imitate them.

Bush: A plant with many stems low down, rather than one clear stem.

Clump: Several plants in one pot that can give the appearance of a multi stemmed and very bushy tree.

Climber: A plant that is a natural climber and will be delivered usually running up a bamboo cane, ready to position in the garden.

Standard Tree: A more mature tree with an upright clear stem of approximately 1.8m-2.0m (measured from the soil to the lowest branches of the crown). Standards are available in different forms relating to their girth size (circumference of the stem measured 1m above soil level), not height:

Standard either 6-10cm or 8-10cm girth, approximately 2.5-3.0m in height
Premium Standard 10-12cm girth, approximately 3.0-3.5m in height
Heavy Standard 12-14cm girth, approximately 3.5-4.5m in height
Extra Heavy Standard 14-16cm girth approximately 4.0-6m in height

Larch

Larch Tree

If you love evergreen trees but also appreciate colorful fall foliage, consider the larch. This tree looks like a pine or spruce in spring and summer with its tall form, short green needles, and small cones. But in autumn, larch’s soft, feathery needles turn bright golden yellow then fall off to reveal its architectural branching pattern. These coniferous trees, which vary in size by species and cultivar, thrive in areas with cool summers and cold winters. They prefer moist or boggy soil.

genus name
  • Larix
light
  • Part Sun,
  • Sun
plant type
  • Tree
height
  • 20 feet or more
width
  • To 25 feet wide
season features
  • Colorful Fall Foliage
problem solvers
  • Deer Resistant
special features
  • Low Maintenance,
  • Attracts Birds
zones
  • 2,
  • 3,
  • 4,
  • 5,
  • 6
propagation
  • Seed

Large Landscape Planter

Most larches are massive, fast-growing trees, so consider the mature size of a species before adding it to a residential landscape. If you have the space, this tree is particularly striking when planted in groups of three. Closely planted specimens eventually grow together, which makes their fall needle drop quite dramatic. If your climate is not hospitable to larch, try one of these deciduous conifers: dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboises) or bald cypress (Taxodium distichum).

Larch Tree Care

Most larch trees are tall (50 to 80 feet tall) with widespread canopies. This makes them more suitable for open landscapes, such as parks, which provide room to grow. Don’t fret if you need to work within a residential landscape, because there are many different cultivated forms. Although some are tall, narrow, and fast-growing, dwarf forms are available. And some forms sport contorted branches or weep to the ground, creating a groundcover if not trained to form a trunk.

Whichever species you choose, growing a larch is easy as long as you don’t live in a warm climate with hot summers. Plant the specimen in a spot where it will get at least six hours of sun a day. Water the tree often enough to keep the soil moist. Add a layer of organic mulch to help retain soil moisture.

Learn how to care for your tree in the first year.

Larch Varieties

European larch

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Larix decidua is a stately tree that grows to 100 feet tall and 30 feet wide. It puts on an amazing autumn show when the needles turn bright gold. Zones 2-6

Tamarack

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This variety is a large tree native to North America. It features bright green needles that turn gold in autumn. It grows 75 feet tall and 30 feet wide. Zones 2-6

‘Varied Directions’ larch

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Larix decidua ‘Varied Directions’ is a unique selection that develops into a spreading shrub or small tree. The branches grow in irregular patterns giving the plant a distinctive shape. It grows 15 feet tall and wide. Zones 2-6

Weeping larch

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The weeping larch is an unusual variety. Because its branches all hang down, it will only grow as tall as you support it. If not staked, it becomes a groundcover. It can eventually spread some 30 feet. Zones 2-6

Why do larches turn yellow?

Larches are one of the few coniferous trees to change colors and lose their needles in the fall. Western larch (Larix occidentalis) grow in the interior Pacific Northwest (Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington) of the USA and British Columbia, Canada. They are conifer trees like pines because they have needles instead of leaves, and their seeds grow in cones. Unlike pines they are not evergreen; they are deciduous. In the autumn, the needles of larches turn golden and then drop off the branches.

The reason deciduous plants turn colors in the autumn is that they are saving nutrients to use later. As temperatures cool and days grow shorter, the chemical machinery in the needles that photosynthesize – or create sugars from carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight – start to break down, and those chemicals (mostly nitrogen) are stored elsewhere in the tree. It is during this process of break down that the needles become golden-colored. This period – starting about the second week of October – lasts for two or three weeks.

Autumn view of larches on the Flathead National Forest, MT

Why are larches deciduous, unlike other conifers? The ability to recycle nutrients, especially nitrogen, is an important advantage in nutrient-poor environments. Larches also grow in snowy climates where heavy snow loads are less likely to break bare branches compared to trees burdened with needles during the winter.

Its deciduous nature also makes western larches especially resistant to fire and resilient to injury. Larch trees can lose much of their canopy and still regrow needles the following year. Its bark is also thick and protects the stem from fire. All these reasons give western larch a competitive advantage over other conifers where it grows – and we can enjoy its autumn color.

Givnish, T. J. 2002. Adaptive significance of evergreen vs. deciduous leaves: Solving the triple paradox. Silva Fennica 36:703-743.

Rosenthal, S. I., and E. L. Camm. 1997. Photosynthetic decline and pigment loss during autumn foliar senescence in western larch (Larix occidentalis). Tree Physiology 17:767-775.

Evergreens are a somber lot, dark green and dour in winter, summer, spring and fall.

That’s their role in the ornamental landscape, to offer a stable background and serve as a reminder that despite the bleak severity of winter, the green world will return.

But there are a few conifers — party animals — that refuse such stern duty. They brazenly turn color in autumn, drop their needles and sprout new ones in the spring. It’s a small group: metasequoia, two types of bald cypress, the conifer relative gingko, and the larches.

Despite their oddball behavior and seasonal display, these trees are not much planted by ordinary gardeners. You need a swamp for the cypresses, and the metasequoia require a huge space. The gingkos are OK, but definitely have leaves, not needles. And of course there’s the little matter of female gingkos and their famously fragrant fruit, which smells like vomit.

The larches, then, are the most adaptable of the group, but they still have some drawbacks. They can grow up to 60 feet tall or so. They have an open, almost gangly habit that is graceful in many respects but doesn’t offer the solidity that other evergreens do. They also are said to be susceptible to a canker disease if planted too densely. The fallen needles will eventually carpet the surrounding ground, smothering other vegetation. And, of course, there is the weirdness of their winter appearance, which is like a dead Christmas tree bereft of its needles.

Still, larches are fascinating trees that offer at least three seasons of interest. One or two might serve as a specimen planting in an open space, but in my experience larches seem to look best planted among other trees in a woodland.

In the woods, the winter starkness of the larches is camouflaged by surrounding trees, which in turn complement the larches when they’re cloaked in their needles.

In the fall, the larches remain a contrasting green while the broad leaves of deciduous trees turn yellow, red or brown and fall to the ground. Then, a little later in the season, the larches turn brilliant, incandescent yellow. Eventually the needles become a toasty brown just before they fall, standing out against the barrenness of the other trees.

When larches are planted with other evergreens, there’s the opposite effect, as the bright yellow needles contrast dramatically with the deep dark green of pines, spruces and firs. You might notice this as you drive along the highway: A stand of dark conifers on a rocky hillside set off brilliantly by a lower band of larches, often growing in moist pockets at the base of a ridge. It can be a confusing sight to those prone to thinking about such matters — an obvious stand of conifers, all roughly cone-shaped, but one group appearing to be yellow and dying and the other sturdy and green.

It’s in spring, though, that larches look their best. Before the leaves begin to emerge on deciduous trees, the larches sprout bright chartreuse tufts on their rough and dreary naked branches. The effect increases over a week or so as the needles grow thicker and longer, and soon the tree is a flaming pyramid of chartreuse. The new needles are soft and flexible, not prickly, and it’s pleasant to run your hand along the branches. Water tends to bead up on the new growth, and on foggy mornings when the sun just starts to break through, the needles sparkle with glittering drops of dew.

There are several varieties of larches, including those native to America, Europe and Japan. The trees you see along the interstates are Larix laricina, the native American larch, also known as the tamarack or hackmatack.

But horticulturists hold the European and Japanese larches in higher esteem for their more refined colors and various weeping habits. There are a few named cultivars of Larix kaempferi, the Japanese larch, including “Pendula.” This is the weeping larch, a small tree with a pronounced weeping habit that is sometimes used as a garden centerpiece. There are also western larches and Siberian larches and Polish larches.

I, however, am pretty happy with my American larches. They are tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions, although the native variety prefers moist sites, and they are completely hardy to Connecticut and north to Canada. I’ve seen no sign of canker in mine, and they’ve grown for years without any care or attention.

They’re a great addition to any woodland, in my view, because every situation needs an oddball or two.

Larch – Connection – Four of Hardwoods (Swords)

Genus: Larix – Family: Pinaceae

Larch is reminding us to rest and recover. Its appearance indicates a time of connection and rejuvenation by seeing the larger world around us also lives within us.

In the Tungus Evenki language of Siberia, the larch tree was called Tuuru, meaning “World Tree.” It was seen as a cosmic ladder that connected Earth to the North Star. This connection worked like a “hitching post” that helped shamans accurately navigate the night skies, thus encouraging travel within the inner and outer realms of reality.

The Tungus word ša– “to know” is the root word for shaman, as “one who knows.” Some say “shaman” means “one who sees in the dark.” Shamans would enter a trance state and travel through the Tuuru (Larch Tree)into the upperworld/branches, middleworld/trunk and underworld/roots to connect with the spirit world for insights. The Tuuru was also the tree that nurtured the “souls” of young shamans until they were ready to become human.

In 1894, an 11,000-year-old wooden idol was discovered in a peat bog on the eastern slope of the Middle Ural Mountains in Russia. The Shigir Idol stands at 17.3 feet tall. At the time it was made, this larch tree was already 157-years-old. It is now the oldest known wooden sculpture in the world, twice as old as Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids.

It features a carved head and face at its top with six other faces engraved throughout its long flat rectangular body. The linear and angular etchings have yet to be interpreted, but appear to contain a story that connects us to a time long forgotten.

Larches are unique because they are deciduous conifers that grow up to 148 feet tall. They are considered a pioneer species native to the cooler regions of the northern hemisphere. They are the dominant trees in the boreal forests of Siberia and Canada reaching further north into the polar ice than any other tree. There are 10-11 species within the Larix genus, which includes the North American tamarack, Larix laricina and Siberian Larch, Larix sibirica. Its timber is hard, durable, waterproof and rot resistant.

Message: When larch appears, we are entering a time of connection to the multi-dimensional world that surrounds us. Larch reminds us that when our world seems to be of spinning out of control we can always connect to our core. Our core is our soul, and our soul knows that this is but another moment in time. Now is also a time of remembering, honoring and healing where we have been, where we want to go and where we are now. This aspect of larch teaches us the importance of honoring and understanding our personal and collective history. By connecting with this wisdom, we can learn from it and potentially not make the same mistakes over and over again. Larch is here to nurture our soul until we are ready to see that we are the one we have been waiting for.

Challenge: Fearful of the dark or the unknown. Feeling isolated or disconnected from our dreams.

If you liked what you read and want more… you may be interested in having the actual guidebook and card deck. The 204 page full-color book is sold separately from the cards. My goal is to find a publisher who can offer this a set. In the meantime, you can purchase either the book or cards via these links. Thank you for you support. Laural

Tree Spirit Tarot – Return to the Garden of our Soul

Tree Spirit Tarot book available at: Amazon

Tree Spirit Tarot deck available at: Printers Studio

For more information visit: lauralwauters.com

  • Dauhurian larch (Larix gmelinii): A 40- to 90-foot tree with a spread of 15 to 30 feet, the bright green needles of this larch turn yellow in fall.
  • European larch (Larix decidua): A popular species, European larch can max out at a height of 100 feet with a 20- to 30-foot spread. It has the pyramid shape of most larch but becomes more irregular as it ages. The golden yellow fall foliage is especially attractive.
  • Himalayan or Sikkim larch (Larix griffithii): This tree tends to grow in an oval-pyramid shape and can easily reach 65 feet in height. Native to the Himalayas, its needles get a bright yellow color in fall.
  • Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi): Another yellow larch in autumn, this species reaches 70 to 90 feet in height with a spread of 25 to 40 feet. As indicated by the common name, it is native to Japan.
  • Kongbo larch (Larix kongboensis): Native to Tibet, this can be a smaller tree with a height of 30 to 80 feet. In fall, the leaves have a red color.
  • Langtang larch (Larix himalaica): This Nepal native is also sometimes classified as Larix potaninii var. himalaica. It thrives at high elevations and is known to live in valleys near Mount Everest.
  • Masters’ larch (Larix mastersiana): Native to China, this larch can reach 80 feet in height and is hardy to USDA plant hardiness zone 7.
  • Olga Bay larch (Larix olgensis): This is also sometimes classified as Larix gmelinii var. olgensis. It grows to heights of 40 to 90 feet with a spread of 15 to 30 feet. This larch is showy, with brilliant yellow fall foliage.
  • Potanin’s or Chinese larch (Larix potaninii): A very large larch, this species can easily reach over 100 feet tall. It is native to Nepal and turns a bright orange in autumn.
  • Prince Rupprecht’s larch (Larix principis-rupprechtii): A relatively small larch, this tree is native to China and Korea and reaches heights of only 40 to 60 feet. Its spread is 15 to 30 feet, and in the fall it turns a very bright yellow.
  • Siberian larch (Larix sibirica): This larch also goes by the name Larix sukaczewii. A massive tree, this species can reach heights of 80 to 200 feet. Its light green needles turn a bright yellow in autumn.
  • Subalpine larch (Larix lyallii): A native of Canada and northern parts of the western U.S., this larch turns a golden yellow in fall. It typically grows to 80 feet.
  • Tamarack larch (Larix laricina): Tamarack larch grows 40 to 80 feet tall and 30 to 50 feet wide. It is native to northern Minnesota and Canada and displays a brilliant orange-yellow color in autumn.
  • Western larch (Larix occidentalis): Also known as the western tamarack or mountain larch, this large larch is found in the northwestern mountains of the U.S. The tree can easily reach 150 feet in height. In autumn, it turns the mountainsides a bright yellow.
  • Yunnan larch (Larix speciosa): A variant of the Sikkim larch, this tree is also known as Larix griffithii var. speciosa. It is native to China and can reach 65 feet tall. It also turns bright yellow in fall.

Biodiversity in the urban forest is incredibly important to resilience and long-term planning (something we’ve written about extensively, here, here, here, and here, to name just a few). To help designers start thinking about ways to increase diversity, we’re starting a series on some of our favorite species. Many of the species included will be underused. Some may not be underused, but included anyway because they have so many great attributes. Combining a large number of these more common species can still create diverse plant palettes.

Today’s group of species is a tribute to fall: a group of deciduous conifers.

Deciduous conifers are needle leaved trees that lose their needles in the fall. Most have spectacular fall color, all the more spectacular because of the uniqueness of seeing needles change color. Today I’ll be writing about:

  • Larix laricina, Tamarack
  • Taxodium distichum, Bald-cypress
  • Metasequoia glyptostroboides, Dawn Redwood

Larix laricina, Tamarack

Tamaracks are eye catching in all seasons. In spring, the unusual soft, pinkish female cones (strobili) draw attention, soon followed by the softest looking (and feeling) clusters of green needles in summer. In fall, the golden color of the needles is hard to miss, especially as they often grow in large groups. In winter, beautiful silhouettes of needle-less tamaracks, bearing small brown cones, stand out, still drawing attention to their unique features of being deciduous conifers.

Native to bogs and lakeshore edges in peaty soil in North America, tamaracks grow best in moist, acidic soils in full sun and do not tolerate hot, humid weather south of USDA zone 5. They grow well in large raingardens and other wet or moist sites, and also tolerate upland suburban sites.

Scientific Name Larix Laricina
Common Name Tamarack, American Larch
Botanic Family Pinaceae, Pine Family
Native Range Eastern northern United States to Minnesota, all of Canada
Native Plant Community Acidic, nutrient poor wetlands, such as sphagnum bogs, peaty lakeshore edges, and boggy stream margins; sometimes occurs in uplands.
Hardiness Zone USDA zones 2b to 5b
Mature Size 40’-80’ tall, 30’-50’ wide
Leaf description Deciduous needles in bundles of 10 to 20; soft to the touch
Shape/Form Pyramidal
Summer Texture Fine
Winter Texture Coarse
Flower Male and female flowers in separate structures on the same tree (monoecious), male flowers are small cone-like structures; female flowers are rosy pink cones that become woody when pollinated
Fruit Small persistent (1/2 inch) woody cones, light brown, upright on stems.
Fall Color Golden yellow
Soil Preferences Prefers moist, acidic soil, tolerates alkaline soil, tolerates medium soil moisture, sand, loam, clay
Compaction Tolerance Tolerant
Root Pattern Shallow roots make this tree prone to wind throw
Light Preferences Full sun
Tolerant of drought? No
Tolerant of flooding? Yes
Tolerant of soil salt? No
Tolerant of salt spray? Yes
Growth Rate Fast
Life Expectancy Long (up to 180 years)
Ease of Transplanting Easy
Wildlife Value Birds, Browsers, Small mammals
Landscape Use Anywhere that has room for a large tree and moist acidic soils, parks, residential, raingardens
Diseases, Pests and Potential Problems Generally low maintenance tree with few problems. Potential insect pests include larch case-bearer, larch sawfly, larch looper, tussock moth, Japanese beetle and woolly aphids. Potential disease problems include needle cast, needle rust and canker.
Other Unique Characteristics Pink cones in spring, soft clusters of needles in summer, golden needles in fall, persistent brown cones in winter, loses needles in winter

Larix laricina needles and cones, image from Wikimedia commons

Larix laricina fall color, image Ann Fisher (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Taxodium distichum, Bald-cypress

Native to the Southeastern U.S., Taxodium distichum, Bald-cypress, is another conifer that loses its needles in winter. Its fall color is a coppery red. Other unique features are its attractive, fibrous, reddish-brown bark, and the buttressing and “knees” it develops in flooded areas. It is a hardy, tough tree that adapts to a wide range of soil types.

Scientific Name Taxodium distichum
Common Name Bald-cypress
Botanic Family Cupressaceae, Cypress Family
Native Range Southeastern United States, south and east from a line from from Illinois to Texas
Native Plant Community Swamps, bayous and rivers
Hardiness Zone 4 to 11
Mature Size 50-70’ tall, 20-30’ wide, can grow taller than 100’
Leaf description Soft, feathery needles
Fall Color Coppery red
Shape/Form Columnar to pyramidal, occasionally broad spreading canopy
Summer Texture Fine
Winter Texture Medium
Flower Male and female flowers in separate structures on the same tree (monoecious), inconspicuous
Fruit Small round cones stay on branches into the winter
Soil Preferences Prefers wet, acidic soil but tolerates drier soils and alkaline soils, sand to clay
Compaction Tolerance Tolerant
Root Pattern Taproot, develop “knees” (conical structures that grow from lateral roots), especially in flooded areas, buttressed base, especially in flooded areas
Light Preferences Full sun
Tolerant of drought? Moderately drought tolerant
Tolerant of flooding? Tolerant
Tolerant of soil salt? Intolerant
Tolerant of salt spray? Tolerant
Growth Rate Moderate
Life Expectancy Long
Ease of Transplanting Easy
Wildlife Value Birds, Small mammals, Water birds
Landscape Use Specimen, massing, anywhere large enough for such a large tree, parks, raingardens, street tree, lakeshores, parking lot islands
Diseases, Pests and Potential Problems No serious insect or disease problems. Chlorosis often occurs in alkaline soils. Bagworms, gall mites, cypress moths, and spider mites are occasional insect pests and twig blight is an occasional disease pest.
Other Unique Characteristics Loses needles in winter, attractive, fibrous, reddish-brown bark.

Taxodium distichum in its native habitat, photo from Wikipedia

Taxodium distichum at Morton Arbortum Visitor Center, photo by Nathalie Shanstrom

Metasequoia glyptostroboides, Dawn Redwood

A very large tree native to China, the Dawn Redwood was thought to be extinct until it was found in China in 1941. Similar to the Bald Cypress, it prefers wet, acidic soils. Its soft green needles turn a brilliant orange in the fall. Gilman and Watson (1994) consider to the “the most outstanding part of the tree” to be “its unique orange red to brown trunk base tapers and thickens quickly with 8 to 12 large buttress-like root flares extending several feet up the tree in a manner unlike any other tree except some tropical trees.”

Scientific Name Metasequoia glyptostroboides
Common Name Dawn redwood
Botanic Family Cupressaceae, Cypress Family
Native Range Central and western China
Hardiness Zone (4)5 to 8, damaged by early frost
Mature Size 70-100’ tall, 15 to 25’ wide
Leaf description Linear, feathery, fern-like foliage that is soft to the touch, deciduous
Fall Color Showy, bronze red/orange yellow
Shape/Form Conical, pyramidal
Summer Texture Fine
Winter Texture Medium
Flower Male and female flowers in separate structures on the same tree (monoecious), inconspicuous
Fruit 0.5 to 1” round brown cone, persistent
Soil Preferences Acid, medium to wet, not tolerant of alkaline soils, sand to clay
Compaction Tolerance Intolerant
Root Pattern Trunk “tapers and thickens quickly with 8 to 12 large buttress-like root flares extending several feet up the tree in a manner unlike any other tree except some tropical trees” (Gilman and Watson 1994).
Light Preferences Full sun
Tolerant of drought? Tolerant
Tolerant of flooding? Tolerant
Tolerant of soil salt? Intolerant
Tolerant of salt spray? Moderately tolerant
Growth Rate Fast
Life Expectancy Long
Ease of Transplanting Easy
Wildlife Value No
Landscape Use Needs a large space, street tree, raingarden, parks, wide medians, specimen, screens, parking lot islands
Diseases, Pests and Potential Problems Usually problem free, cankers can occur
Other Unique Characteristics As the tree matures, the trunk broadens at the base and develops attractive and sometimes elaborate fluting; attractive bark; reddish-brown bark peels into long strips

Metasequoia glyptostroboides fall color, image Lotus Johnson (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Metasequoia glyptostroboides, photo JR P (CC BY-NC 2.0)

While many arborists and designers know the deciduous conifers included in this blog, most people who are not in a tree related profession don’t know there are deciduous conifers. So, as you admire changing colors this fall, consider including deciduous conifers in your next urban designs/plantings to increase diversity and interest in the urban forest. All three of these are very low maintenance given the right growing conditions, and tolerant of quite a wide range of growing conditions (though none tolerate soil salt). With a preference for wet soils, but tolerant of drought, they are ideal for use in larger bioretention areas as long as they will not be exposed to heavy salt use.

We’ll be featuring three to four trees, grouped by different characteristics, in each of the articles in this series. Have a grouping or category of trees you’d like us to cover? Let us know in the comments.

Sources

Dirr, Michael. 1998. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. Stipes Publishing: Champaign, IL.
Gilman, Edward, F. and Dennis G. Watson. 1994. Taxodium distichum, Baldcypress. USDA Forest Service Fact Sheet ST-620. Downloaded from the U.S. Forest Service.
Gilman, Edward, F. and Dennis G. Watson. 1994. Metasequoia glyptostroboides, Dawn Redwood. USDA Forest Service Fact Sheet ST-407. Downloaded from here.
Holm, Heather. 2015. Great Design Plant: Larix Laricina Glows Gold in Late Autumn.
Minnesota Department of Transportation Plant Selector
Missouri Botanical Garden Bald Cypress website
Missouri Botanical Garden Dawn Redwood website
Missouri Botanical Garden Tamarack website
Morton Arboretum Bald Cypress website
Morton Arboretum Dawn Redwood website
Morton Arboretum Tamarack website
Smith, Welby. 2008. Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis.

Nathalie Shanstrom is a sustainable landscape architect with The Kestrel Design Group. Top image is of Lincoln Road Mall (Miami, FL) courtesy of Raymond Jungles.

Deciduous conifers

The list of deciduous conifers is pretty short and refers to trees which drop their needles (leaves) during autumn and are dormant all winter. Dawn redwood, bald cypress and tamarack are three such trees. This column will focus on Larix laricina, commonly known as tamarack, eastern larch, American larch or hackmatack.

Cones and yellow needles of the tamarack or larch tree in mid-November before the seasonal drop. The cones can stay on the trees for years after dropping their seed. Photo by K. Gabalski

Larix laricina is a native North American tree whose soft, green needles turn brilliant yellow in the fall and drop to the ground. The trees, with small pine cones still attached, can look like bare skeletons during the winter, but their winter dormancy means they can survive into the far north of Canada and even near the Arctic Circle.

The native variety grows best in boggy soils and wet, poorly-drained woodlands, but can be found in landscaping where it has been transplanted. Eastern larch grow to 40 to 60 feet tall and have an open, pyramidal shape. The green needles are arranged in brush-like clusters at the ends of short spur-like shoots which are spaced along the branches. The bark is a scaly reddish-brown.

According to the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, larch is the only tree in winter with cones and no needles, and the oval cones can remain on branches for years after the seeds are released.

Come springtime, tufts of light green, inch-long needles create a soft look which darkens slightly for the summer.

New Hampshire Extension explains that the seed can be difficult to germinate, but once germinated, young saplings are relatively easy to transplant.

The native species has an interesting history. The wood is tough and rot resistant and root strings were used by Native Americans for sewing birch bark canoes. New Hampshire Extension says Native Americans also used the bark for medicine. Colonists used larch for shipbuilding, and before and during the Civil War, it was common to plant at least one larch in a town cemetery to symbolize winter death and springtime re-birth.

It is typical for European Larch (Larix deciduas) to be used for landscaping purposes. It will grow larger than the American larch and tolerates warmer temperatures. However, larch typically are not used for landscapes due to their dead-looking appearance in winter and the mess which can be caused by fallen needles. They can add interesting late season color to a large landscape, and because they are so hardy, may also be a good choice for wet areas of your landscape or for rain gardens, if you have the space. There are also varieties such as “weeping larch” which are available for smaller landscapes.

Although larch is one of the few conifers to drop all its needles and enter dormancy in autumn, it is not unusual for evergreen conifers to drop some needles in the fall.

If you have noticed your evergreen conifers dropping needles this fall, it may be part of a normal process.

Depending on the species, conifers typically hold their needles for three to seven years. Evergreen conifers typically shed old, inefficient needles in the fall.

This needle drop can cause concern from homeowners, but usually it is normal. However, drought and insect damage can also cause needle loss. If the tree still looks relatively dense following needle drop, it is probably normal. If the tree looks thin, or needles are dropping earlier in the season, the tree may be stressed. Look for insect damage or water if conditions have been dry.

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