Karl VonBerg Monday, 24 October 2016
Trees with big leaves lose those leaves in the fall, and trees with needles keep them all year round. Right? Well…not exactly.
Check out this photo from the Catskill Mountains in late fall. Most trees have lost their leaves by now, but do you see that fiery orange color? That belongs to a conifer, the only conifer in the northeastern US that loses its needles in the fall. It’s known as American larch or tamarack.
Larch is a pretty unusual tree, and not just because it bucks the “deciduous/evergreen” pattern. For instance, even though it’s a conifer—a “softwood”—its wood is actually heavier than some hardwood trees. It’s more resistant to rot than a lot of other trees, and its warm, inviting grain pattern makes it a popular flooring choice.
In the spring, larch’s new needles grow out in a unique whorled pattern.
Larch is also one of the first trees to leaf out in spring, so this bright green stands out starkly against the barren woods.
The word “tamarack” comes from the tree’s Algonquian name and means “wood used for snowshoes.” Its dense, rot-resistant wood made larch a popular choice not only for snowshoes but many other products that demanded tough wood.
Larch is a northern tree, and it’s built to handle the cold. It can survive temperatures as low as -85 degrees Fahrenheit, and it grows as far north as the edge of the tundra. You’ll often find it growing in plantations, but it also grows naturally in some wet areas like swamps and bogs.
In the fall, you can spot larch from a long ways off if you get the timing right. Head out in late fall after most trees have dropped their leaves, and look for the orange-colored needles standing out in the mostly barren tree tops.
If you want tips on identifying larch and several other common conifers, check out this tree ID video here on MyWoodlot.