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The Larch

UK Garden Centre - Information about the Larch tree

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Family Pinaceae
Larix decidua

The Larch is naturally a tree of the mountains, ascending to great elevations. Unmixed forests of Larch in the Bavarian Alps occur between 3,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level, and on the central Swiss Alps it ascends to nearly 7,000 feet. A long winter of real cold is necessary for its full development and the ripening of its wood, and for that reason the timber of Larch grown in England is inferior to that grown in its native countries, because our winters are either short or mild, and neither give the tree the full rest it needs.
It is a European tree, and was introduced to England at some date prior to 1629. For one hundred and fifty years it appears to have been cultivated here merely as an ornamental garden tree. Then attention was directed to its value as a timber tree, and gold medals were offered for Larch planting and essays upon its economic importance. By 1728 the second Duke of Atholl had already begun those experiments in Larch growing for timber which have been continued by his successors on a vast scale, the fourth Duke planting on 15,000 acres of barren land no fewer than 27,000,000 Larch trees. Their example has been copied on a smaller scale all over the country.
The Larch is a lofty tree, with a very straight tapering trunk, ordinarily attaining a length between eighty and one hundred feet, but under very favourable conditions one hundred and twenty feet, with a girth of bole from six to twelve feet. The brown bark is easily separable into thin layers, and the growth of the tree causes it to split into deep longitudinal fissures. The long lower branches are spreading, with a downward tendency, and the tips turned upward again. The twigs are mostly pendulous, and bear long and slender light-green leaves, in bundles of thirty or forty. All the other families of Coniferous trees are evergreen, their leaves lasting for several years; but at the beginning of winter the Larch leaves wither and fall, and the Larch-wood takes on a more lifeless aspect than is assumed by any of our native trees in their leafless condition. But in spring, when the fresh green leaves are just showing in spreading tufts, and the reddish-purple female flowers hang brightly from the gaunt branches, the Larch wears and entirely different appearance, and in summer the light grace of branches and foliage makes the Larch a beautiful object. That is, the trees that grow on the very outer edge of the wood, or, better still, one that has been planted as a specimen tree, where it has room to fling out its arms on all sides without touching anything, and can get the abundant light it needs.
The brown cones are egg-shaped, about an inch in length, the scales with loose edges.
The wood is very durable, and it has the great recommendation of being fit for ordinary use when the tree is only forty years old. It is most valuable for the purposes where exposure to all weathers is a necessity, for it endures constant change from wet to dry. Larch bark is used for tanning, and turpentine is a product of the tree.
Unlike most Conifers, it has the power of sending out new shoots when the branches have been removed close up to the stem.


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