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Larix decidua

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European Larch foliage and cones

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Larix decidua

Genus Larch

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About

File:EUFORGEN Larix decidua.png
Larix decidua - Distribution map.

Larix decidua, common name European larch, is a species of larch native to the mountains of central Europe, in the Alps and Carpathians, with disjunct lowland populations in northern Poland and southern Lithuania.

Description

Larix decidua is a medium-size to large deciduous coniferous tree reaching 25-45 m tall, with a trunk up to 1 m diameter (exceptionally, to 55 m tall and 2 m diameter). The crown is conic when young, becoming broad with age; the main branches are level to upswept, with the side branches often pendulous. The shoots are dimorphic, with growth divided into long shoots (typically 10-50 cm long) and bearing several buds, and short shoots only 1-2 mm long with only a single bud. The leaves are needle-like, light green, 2-4 cm long which turn bright yellow before they fall in the autumn, leaving the pale yellow-buff shoots bare until the next spring.

The cones are erect, ovoid-conic, 2-6 cm long, with 30-70 erect or slightly incurved (not reflexed) seed scales; they are green variably flushed red when immature, turning brown and opening to release the seeds when mature, 4–6 months after pollination. The old cones commonly remain on the tree for many years, turning dull grey-black.

It is very cold tolerant, able to survive winter temperatures down to at least -50°C, and is among the tree line trees in the Alps, reaching 2400 m altitude, though most abundant from 1000-2000 m. It only grows on well-drained soils, avoiding waterlogged ground.

Subspecies

There are two subspecies:

  • Larix decidua subsp. decidua - European Larch or Alpine Larch. Most of the range, except as below. Cones 2.5-6 cm; shoots yellow-buff.
  • Larix decidua subsp. polonica - Polish Larch. Disjunct in lowland northern Poland. Cones 2-3 cm; shoots very pale yellow-buff, almost white.

Uses

Larix decidua is cultivated as an ornamental tree for planting in gardens and parks.

Wood

The wood is tough and durable, but also flexible in thin strips, and is particularly valued for yacht building; wood used for this must be free of knots, and can only be obtained from old trees that were pruned when young to remove side branches.

Small larch poles are widely used for rustic fencing.

Ecology

The seeds are an important food for some birds, notably Siskin, Lesser Redpoll and Citril Finch, while the buds and immature cones are eaten by Capercaillie.

See also List of Lepidoptera that feed on larches

European Larch needles are the only known food for caterpillars of the case-bearer moth Coleophora sibiricella; its cone scales are used as food by the caterpillars of the tortrix moth Cydia illutana.

Invasive species

L. decidua is classed as a wilding conifer, an invasive species which spreads into the high country of New Zealand. It was planted by the New Zealand Forest Service for erosion control.

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