Tamarack (Larix laricina)

Tamarack. Elm Rock Farm, 2017

Other Common Names:

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

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 (lower branches tend to fall off naturally)

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.