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What Is a Larch?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 18 March 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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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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