Larix decidua (European Larch)
|Also known as:||Common Larch|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||sun; old settlement sites, landscape plantings|
|Bloom season:||April - May|
|Plant height:||30 to 100 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||none|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Male and female flowers are cone like structures called strobili, both borne on separate branches of the same tree (monoecious). Both male and female cones form at the tips of short, spur-like lateral shoots on young branches. Males are globular to oblong, 1/8 to 1/6 inch long, with creamy white pollen sacs with a loose collar of brown, papery scales.
Female strobili are erect, egg shaped in outline, ¼ to 2/3 inch long on a short, curved stalk, often emerging within a cluster of leaves, the 40 to 50 cone scales are egg-shaped to oblong with an abrupt taper to a pointed tip, greenish to yellowish often edged with pink to deep rose red.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are needle-like in dense clusters of 20 to 65 (+75) at tips of short, spur-like lateral branches, or singly on new shoots, soft but straight, somewhat flattened, ½ to 1½ inch long, the tip blunt or tapered to a point. Needles turn yellow in fall and drop off.
First year twigs are straw-colored to tan, turning grayish brown, bark becoming rough with brownish gray flaky scales. The crown is irregularly pyramidal, the branches on older trees often drooping. The trunk can reach 3 feet or more diameter at breast height (dbh).
Fruit is an egg shaped cone, ¾ to 1½ inch long with 40 to 50 spreading, hairy scales with wavy edges. Cones ripen to brown the first year, shedding the winged seed by late October. On young forming cones, scales are oblong with the tips sharply recurved at the tips.
European Larch was introduced to the US from northern and central Europe where it is primarily an alpine species. It has only occasionally escaped and become naturalized throughout New England, the upper mid-west into Minnesota. Certainly not a widely popular landscape species, it is more likely to be encountered in formal plantings in urban areas, though I have run into it in both a metro nature center and a state park on the north shore that appear to be from earlier home site plantings. It is readily distinguished from the native Tamarack (Larix laricina), which has smaller cones (¾ inch or less), orange-brown twigs, ascending to spreading branches, and needles mostly less than 1 inch long with fewer than 45 in a bundle, where European Larch cones are about twice the size, new twigs are a paler yellowish to tan, branches are often drooping, and needles are mostly 1 inch or longer with up to 75 in a bundle.
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Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Hennepin and Lake counties.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?