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Larches are deciduous conifers in the genus ''Larix'', of the family Pinaceae (subfamily Laricoideae). Growing from tall, 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.


Etymology

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.


Description and distribution

The tallest species, '' Larix occidentalis'', can reach . 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 long and bearing several buds, and in dense clusters of 20–50 needles on short shoots only long with only a single bud. The leaves (light green) are needle-like, long, slender (under 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, 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 () with short bracts, with more southerly species tending to have longer cones (), 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 North America is a continent in the Northern Hemisphere and almost entirely within the Western Hemisphere. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean The Atlantic Ocean is the second-la ...
to northern
Siberia Siberia ( ; rus, Сибирь, r=Sibir', p=sʲɪˈbʲirʲ, a=Ru-Сибирь.ogg) is an extensive geographical region, constituting all of North Asia, from the Ural Mountains in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east. It has been a part ...
passing through
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, mountainous
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and
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. The larches are important forest trees of
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,
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,
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and
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. 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 In physical geography, tundra () is a type of biome where tree growth is hindered by frigid temperatures and short growing seasons. The term ''tundra'' comes through Russian (') from the Kildin Sámi word (') meaning "uplands", "treeless ...
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 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; 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:


North American species

* '' Larix laricina'' (Du Roi) K. Koch – Tamarack or American larch. Parts of Alaska and throughout
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and the northern
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from the eastern Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic shore. * '' Larix lyallii'' Parl. – Subalpine larch. Mountains of northwest United States and southwest Canada, at very high altitude. * '' Larix occidentalis'' Nutt. – Western larch. Mountains of northwest United States and southwest Canada, at lower altitudes ( Pacific Northwest).


Eurasian species


Northern Eurasian species with short bracts

* '' Larix decidua'' (syn. ''L. europaea'' D.C.) – European larch; mountains of central
Europe Europe is a large peninsula conventionally considered a continent in its own right because of its great physical size and the weight of its history and traditions. Europe is also considered a Continent#Subcontinents, subcontinent of Eurasia ...
* '' Larix sibirica'' – Siberian larch. Plains of western
Siberia Siberia ( ; rus, Сибирь, r=Sibir', p=sʲɪˈbʲirʲ, a=Ru-Сибирь.ogg) is an extensive geographical region, constituting all of North Asia, from the Ural Mountains in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east. It has been a part ...
* '' Larix gmelinii'' (syn. ''L. dahurica'') – Dahurian larch; Plains of central and eastern Siberia * '' Larix kaempferi'' (syn. ''L. leptolepis'') – Japanese larch; Mountains of central
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* ''Larix'' × ''czekanowskii'' – Uncertain; its origin could be hybrid


Southern Euroasiatic species with long bracts

* '' Larix potaninii'' Batalin – Chinese larch. Mountains of southwestern
China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the world's most populous country, with a population exceeding 1.4 billion, slightly ahead of India India, officially the Republic of India ...
(
Sichuan Sichuan (; zh, c=, labels=no, ; zh, p=Sìchuān; alternatively romanized as Szechuan or Szechwan; formerly also referred to as "West China" or "Western China" by Protestant missions) is a province in Southwest China occupying most of t ...
, northern
Yunnan Yunnan , () is a landlocked province in the southwest of the People's Republic of China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the world's most populous country, with a populati ...
). * '' Larix mastersiana'' Rehder & E.H.Wilson – Masters' larch. Mountains of western China. * '' Larix griffithii'' Hook.f. (syn. ''L. griffithiana'') – Himalayan larch. Mountains of the eastern
Himalayas The Himalayas, or Himalaya (; ; ), is a mountain range in Asia, separating the plains of the Indian subcontinent The Indian subcontinent is a physiographical region in Southern Asia. It is situated on the Indian Plate, projecting ...
.


Hybrids

Most if not all of the species can be hybridised in cultivation. Currently-accepted hybrids are: * ''Larix'' × ''lubarskii'' * ''Larix'' × ''maritima'' * ''Larix'' × ''polonica'' 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. ''Larix'' × ''stenophylla'' is another probable hybrid still unresolved. Larch is used as a food plant by the larvae of a number of
Lepidoptera Lepidoptera ( ) is an order of insects that includes butterflies and moths (both are called lepidopterans). About 180,000 species In biology Biology is the scientific study of life. It is a natural science with a broad scop ...
species — see list of Lepidoptera that feed on larches.


Ecology

Larches are associated with a number of mycorrhizal fungal species, including some species which primarily or only associate with larch. One of the most prominent of these species is the larch bolete '' Suillus grevillei''.


Diseases

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 Canada is a country in North America North America is a continent in the Northern Hemisphere and almost entirely within the Western Hemisphere. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic O ...
, this disease was first detected in 1980 and is particularly harmful to an indigenous species larch, the tamarack, killing both young and mature trees. 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 Devon ( , historically known as Devonshire , ) is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in South West England. The most populous settlement in Devon is the city of Plymouth, followed by Devon's county town, the city of Exeter. Devo ...
, Cornwall and Somerset, and has since spread to the south-west of Scotland. In August 2010 the disease was found in Japanese larch trees in counties Waterford and Tipperary in
Ireland Ireland ( ; ga, Éire ; Ulster Scots dialect, Ulster-Scots: ) is an island in the Atlantic Ocean, North Atlantic Ocean, in Northwestern Europe, north-western Europe. It is separated from Great Britain to its east by the North Channel (Grea ...
and in 2013 in the Afan Forest Park in south Wales. '' Laricifomes officinalis'' is another mushroom found in
Europe Europe is a large peninsula conventionally considered a continent in its own right because of its great physical size and the weight of its history and traditions. Europe is also considered a Continent#Subcontinents, subcontinent of Eurasia ...
,
North America North America is a continent in the Northern Hemisphere and almost entirely within the Western Hemisphere. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean The Atlantic Ocean is the second-la ...
and northern
Asia Asia (, ) is one of the world's most notable geographical regions, which is either considered a continent in its own right or a subcontinent of Eurasia, which shares the continental landmass of Afro-Eurasia with Africa. Asia covers an ...
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.


Uses

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
boat A boat is a watercraft of a large range of types and sizes, but generally smaller than a ship A ship is a large watercraft that travels the world's oceans and other sufficiently deep waterways, carrying cargo or passengers, or in suppo ...
s, for exterior cladding of buildings, and interior paneling. The timber is somewhat resistant to rot when in contact with the ground, and historically was used as posts and in fencing. However, European Standard 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. The hybrid Dunkeld larch is widely grown as a
timber Lumber is wood that has been processed into dimensional lumber, including beams and planks or boards, a stage in the process of wood production. Lumber is mainly used for construction framing, as well as finishing (floors, wall panels, w ...
crop in Northern Europe, valued for its fast growth and disease resistance. 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 Central Europe is an area of Europe Europe is a large peninsula conventionally considered a continent in its own right because of its great physical size and the weight of its history and traditions. Europe is also considered a Continent ...
larch is viewed as one of the best wood materials for the building of residences. 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.Stutley, Margaret (2003). ''Shamanism : An Introduction''. London: Routledge, 2003. Planted on borders with birch, both tree species were used in pagan cremations.


Gallery

File:10 31 2008 Stand of Tamarack.jpg, '' Larix laricina'' in autumn ( Vermont) File:Larix occidentalis Navaho Ridge.jpg, '' Larix occidentalis'' (Navaho Ridge, Washington state, US) File:Flowers of Japanese larch emerging.jpg, Male (above) and female (below right) cones of Japanese larch emerging in spring File:SubalpineLarch 7769.jpg, Subalpine larch male fall foliage and cone ( strobilus)


References


Further reading

* * Quote from p. 729. * Phillips, D. H., & Burdekin, D. A. (1992). ''Diseases of Forest and Ornamental Trees''. Macmillan .


External links

*
''Larix'' images at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University Plant Image Database
* Friedman, William (Ned)
"Larch cones in spring."
''Posts from the Collection,'' Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, 2 April 2016. Accessed 26 May 2020. *Rose, Nancy
"Not All Conifers are Evergreen."
Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University website, 6 January 2016. Accessed 26 May 2020.
"Snow Scenes, winter, larches 1977."
''Library Featured Images'', Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University website, 21 November 2019. Accessed 26 May 2020. * * * {{authority control Larix Deciduous conifers Taxa named by Philip Miller