Plant Identification

Tamarack (Larix laricina)

Other Common Names:

  • Hackmatack, eastern larch, black larch, red larch, American larch

Family Tree:

  • Order: Pinales (Conifers aka gymnosperms). Gymnosperms produce “naked” seeds, as opposed to angiosperms (flowering plants), which produce seeds enclosed within an ovary. All existing conifers are either trees or shrubs. Conifers are ancient, existing in the fossil record as far back as 300 million years ago.
  • Family: Pinaceae (Pine family). There are 11 genera in the pine family, and over 200 species, including cedars, firs, pines, and larches. The Pinaceae family evolved in the northern hemisphere 130-200 million years ago.
  • Genus: Larix (Larch). This genus contains 11 species of deciduous coniferous trees.

Manitoba Species:

  • Tamarack (Larix laricina)

Characteristics:

  • Deciduous coniferous tree, up to 20m tall.
  • Needles are borne on spurs in clusters of 10-20. First year twigs have single needles.
  • Needles are three sided, up to 3.8 cm long, turning yellow, and falling from the tree in autumn.
  • Bark of young trees gray and smooth, turning flaky in maturity, with pink or reddish hues.
  • Needles emerge from spurs, which remain on the branches after the leaves have fallen off.
  • Tamarack live up to 180 years.
  • Self-pruning

Reproduction:

  • Female cones egg shaped, up to .9″ long, with 12-25 seed scales. Red when fertile, becoming brown and woody after pollination.
  • Male flowers are yellow, and rounded, appearing near branch tips.
  • Each tree contains male and female cones (monoecious).
  • Seeds are primarily wind dispersed, but also dispersed by red squirrels.
  • Tamaracks reproduce via seeds, layering, and the roots are known to sometimes produce new shoots.

Similar Species:

  • There are no other deciduous coniferous trees in the region, and no other trees with needles in bundles of 10-20.

Ecological Role:

  • Often one of the first trees to grow after a fire.
  • The seeds are eaten by various rodents, such as red squirrels, mice, voles, and shrews.
  • The inner bark is eaten by porcupines.
  • Snowshoe hares eat tamarack seedlings and bark.
  • Grouse and caribou eat the needles.
  • Various birds nest in tamarack trees, including the white-throated sparrow, song sparrow, veery, common yellow throat, and Nashville warbler.

Edibility:

  • Tea can be made from the branches, needles, and roots.
  • Young shoots can be boiled and eaten
  • Sap

Other Uses:

  • Larch lumber is valued for its waterproof qualities, and is used for fence posts and poles.
  • Used principally for pulpwood, not a major commercial lumber species.
  • Ornamental tree
  • Often used in bonsai
  • Used to make dogsled runners and fish traps in Alaska, and goose and duck decoys in northern Alberta.
  • Was used by the Algonquian First Nation for making snowshoes.
  • The roots were used to stitch birch bark canoes together.

Etymology:

  • “Larix” is the Ancient Greek word denoting the larch tree.
  • “Tamarack” is the Algonquian name for the species, meaning “wood used for snowshoes”
  • Laricina is a Latin word meaning “similar to Larix”

Other:

  • Tamarack grows in every province and territory of Canada.