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What Is a Larch?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2014
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A larch is a tree in the genus Larix. Larches are conifers, producing small upright cones each year with fertile seeds inside, and they can be found in many regions of the world. Some gardeners cultivate larches ornamentally both outdoors and indoors as bonsai plants, and these trees are also cultivated on timber plantations. Larch timber is prized in some regions for its durability and hue, and can be used in the production of furniture and other wood products.

Larches produce needle-like leaves of varying lengths, and they lose their leaves each fall, turning yellow before the leaves drop off altogether. This deciduous growth habit is somewhat unusual among conifers and makes larches easy to spot in mixed conifer forests. The leaves usually return in the early spring, growing in bright green and darkening to a less lurid color over time. The cones vary in size, depending on the species, with species from southern regions usually producing larger cones.

Some larches are adapted for temperate northern climates. They tend to produce shorter needles and cones. Others grow on mountains in southern regions and can be among the dominant trees in mountain environments. Larches are durable, hardy trees well suited to the conditions where they grow, and they develop rapidly, allowing them to spread in hospitable climates. Gardeners can use this to their advantage to cultivate larches used for a windbreak or specimen planting, if they live in temperate to cool regions where these trees will thrive.

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Larch timber is closegrained, making it ideal for many types of construction and craft applications. It is a pale gold to creamy white color and is used for flooring, cladding, building furniture, and many other types of activities. Conditioning with varnish or oil will cause the wood to darken slightly, and it is advisable to do a test patch on an area that will not be visible before treating a larch floor or piece of furniture, to see how dramatic the color change will be.

Larch trees have also been used in some regions as a historic source of herbal remedies. Larch is believed to be beneficial to people with psychological problems like lack of confidence, uncertainty, and depression. The efficacy of products made with larch has not been extensively researched and is not supported by scientific research. As with other herbal products, it is advisable to consult a doctor before using larch products to confirm they are safe for use.

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candyquilt
Post 3

@serenesurface-- I don't mind the needles. I actually think that a larch is pretties when the needles have turned yellow in fall. And it adds such a nice contrast in the yard, and goes well with other fall colors.

I realize the needles can be annoying if you don't want to leave them there and have to clean them. Have you thought about making mulch with the needles with a compost machine? They might not be the best mulch material alone, but you can mix them with other plant materials like leaves and cones to make a nice mulch to use in the garden. My neighbor does this and is happy with the results.

serenesurface
Post 2

I like larches but what I don't like about them is that they lose their needles. This not only makes them ugly in winter months, but they also make a mess, leaving tons of yellow needles behind.

ZipLine
Post 1

As far as I know, larches are not very fond of heat. They prefer cooler climates, but don't mind being in partial or full sun when the climate is cool. They're also very adaptive to the soil, and can manage in very moist soils unlike some other conifers.

We have a river behind our house and larches grow near the river although the soil is very moist.

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