We think the Mountain Larch

the most wondrous and under appreciated

tree in the world!

Is it a Larch, a Mountain Larch or is it aTamarack?

Commonly called the Tamarack in the east, we choose to lump

all the various minor variations under the Mountain Larch name,

but what’s the real difference, anyway?

People in different regions call them by different names, but real differences are hard to find and what differences there are are more based on environmental factors rather than real genetic differences! 

Some say there are perhaps 10 to 14 variations of the Mountain Larch, but there is little agreement as to how to designate or classify these various variations or even what constitutes a distinct species. 

Much of this confusion arises by how they are classified. While Mountain Larch are found around the world, they exhibit minor variations and idiosyncrasies from location to location. 

In the past, the 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; rather than a true genetic divide between Old World and New World species, differences in cone and bract size are rather merely adaptations to varying climatic conditions.

Where does the the Mountain Larch grow?

Map at right shows the worldwide non-cultivated reach of

the Mountain Larch. It is very hardy and easy to grow in

cooler climates.

The Mountain Larch is rather shade intolerant, preferring

moist locations on northern slopes and valley bottoms when

growing wild, it survives low temperatures in a variety of soils

as long as they are moist, well-drained and access direct sunlight.

Ideally, they like soils with lots of decaying wood mixed in, especially

other Mountain Larch organics, stumps, root material, and other

evergreen type barrow. As you see from the map, where they grow

isn't geographically determined, but rather they are very biome specific,

thriving from sea level to more than11,000 feet elevations.

Very visibly distinct!

Even from a distance, the Mountain Larch is easily identified. The branches look almost feathery, in that the branches are covered with a uniform row of light-green needle clumps. In hand, the needles are very soft and are one to two inches long. There are 14 or more needles per bud and its cones are woody and brown.

The wood of the ages!

Wood from the Mountain Larch wood is very strong, dense and heavy, and extremely durable.  Sometimes living for more than 1,000 years and soaring more than 200 feet above ground level with diameters of 5 to 8 feet. Tough as hardwoods like English Oak but with a golden honey color and aesthetic appeal of cedar, despite its incredible strength, durability and performance properties, it is also 30% cheaper than traditional Cedar.

Today, it is one of the most valuable timber-producing species in western North America, where its close-grained, durable wood is used in framing, railway ties, pilings, exterior and interior finishing work, Because of its unusual It stiffness, longevity, resistance to both bending and endwise compression, Mountain Larch are used in the production of lumber and fine veneers and in the building industry, for houses, roof constructions, bridges, phone poles, flooring and interior construction, in furniture and cabinet making and even in ship building.

Interestingly, some buildings built entirely from Mountain Larch more than 900 years ago are still in daily use.

Why is Mountain Larch wood so much better?

On the Janka Scale of Hardness, Mountain Larch weighs in at a very impressive 1,100 lbs / sq in. meaning that wood from the Mountain Larch experiences much less indentation and wear than most other woods and therefore is able to maintain its wonderful appearance for many years.

The Mountain Larch’s impressive density is result of where and how it grows. There are really four different types of

wood in every tree. Cutting through the trunk of a mature tree and removing the bark and outer cambium layer (which eventually becomes new bark), you'll notice two distinct sections of the trunk. The outer, lighter colored wood is the sapwood. This is the "working" part of the tree, as water and sap will flow through the sapwood much like blood through your arteries, veins and capillaries. While this part of the trunk is vital to the tree when it is living, its not the best wood as it contains a lot of moisture, shrinks considerably when dried, and is much more susceptible to fungus.The inner, darker section of the trunk is the heartwood. Heartwood is formed from old, "retired" sapwood, and becomes the strong spine of the tree. Heartwood is preferred for woodworking, as it is much stronger and more stable.

When you examine the individual tree rings, (each ring represents one year of growth) you discover that each ring is actually composed of two different kinds of wood, the ‘earlywood’ growth that comes at the beginning of each year’s growth and the the ‘latewood’ that is produced during the summer and fall. Interestingly, the latewood is much the stronger, more dense and stable wood.

Growing in an environment of long, harsh winters and short 24 hr a day summer growing seasons, the Mountain Larch contains 40% latewood which is much denser and mechanically stronger than the opposing earlywood, creating a wood with impressive wear resistant characteristics.  And while no tree produces 100% all heartwood material, mature Mountain Larch has a heartwood content of 90%. There are two distinct advantages in having mostly heartwood material. Heartwood is more durable and stable than sapwood and allows for a much more consistent color and quality appearance.

And very extremely fire tolerant, too!

The bark at the tree's base is quite thick, up to six inches in an old-growth specimen. The bark is a furled reddish orange and jigsaw-shaped somewhat like that of ponderosa pine. The thickness of the bark, and the fact that the first limbs often begin up to 50 feet from the ground on a large tree, makes the Mountain Larch the most fire resistant trees in the world

Occasionally fire does win the battle with the larch. The dying larch responds by producing huge numbers of seeds that can be dispersed up to 400 feet away. The large-winged seeds are very small; it takes about 143,000 seeds to make a pound. After a fire, seeds germinate and grow readily on recently burned soils and the Mountain Larch re-establishes itself very rapidly.

A source of food, medicines, lumber, chemicals and more.....

For North American Indians, the larch possessed mystical properties offering medicine, nutrition, and resilient building materials.  The Ojibway used crushed leaves and bark for poultices to treat wounds and headaches, and inhaled the larch's resinous vapors.  Other Native Americans chewed its sweetish sap like gum, gargled its tea for sore throats, and ate its boiled spring shoots.  Native Siberians ingested its sap to fight the effects of scurvy.  Its tough fiber had many uses, from making duck and goose decoys among the Cree near Hudson's Bay, to crafting toboggans and snowshoes, dogsled runners, boat ribs, and fish traps.  Indians used the roots for cordage, the wood for arrow shafts, and the bark for medicine.  Early Americans used the soft needles for stuffing pillows and mattresses and used the roots of large trees for building boats. In the Abenaki language, the word “Hackmatack” – later Anglicized to “Tamarack” – means “wood used for snowshoes.”  “Larch” is its European name, deriving from old German. Today, the Mountain Larch is still tapped for its sap which is dried to a syrup and then mixed with sweeteners. It can also produce a sweet gum that hardens when exposed to the air. In  the past, Native peoples chewed this gum for its sugar (galactan, which tastes like a slightly bitter honey), and its medicinal qualities which are only now becoming better understood. The bark contains Arabino galactan, a water-soluble gum used for offset lithography, paint and inks, and in pharmaceuticals as a pill or tablet binder and as an emulsifier.. Glactan can be made into baking powder (in case you're running low and can't get to the store).

It is currently one of the most valuable timber-producing species as its close-grained, durable wood is prized for structural members, super strong Glue-Lams, framing, railway ties, pilings, exterior and interior finishing work.

The utility of the Mountain Larch goes well beyond its beauty, its strong, dense lasting lumber or chemicals. Rotting cavities within large trucks provide homes to several songbird species, woodpeckers, owls and flying squirrels. Occasionally osprey, bald eagle and even Canada geese make their large platform nests in the Mountain Larch. Both blue and spruce grouse eat the buds and leaves. Black bear favor larch trees for escape because the textured bark and large size make for easy climbing. Even after dead, the Mountain Larch provides favored snags for many bird species, especially pileated and other woodpeckers.  The hardness of the wood may also explain why woodpeckers often choose a larch tree for drumming.

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