Jeff Green | Nov 17, 2005
NatureReflections November 17, 2005
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Nature ReflectionsNovember 17, 2005
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When November arrives most of the leaves of the deciduous trees have fallen, leaving behind stark, barren branches, or the deep green of the conifers. But the American Larch seems to have a different agenda from the bare deciduous trees and the permanent green conifers. At this time a stand of the larch will be a swath of golden yellow among the others. If there is only one tree, it will be a golden yellow sentinel warning of the coming of winter.
But very soon the golden yellow spills--needles of the larch will also be falling. This species is a cone-bearing conifer but one that loses its leaves or spills annually. After doing so it will, like the deciduous trees, also stand stark and bare in the cold breezes of the coming winter.
Also called Tamarack, Eastern Larch or Hackmatack, this species is found from Newfoundland to Alaska, and from northern Indiana to the northern limits of tree growth in Canada and is often found in swamps or wet areas and in open areas, as it is intolerant of shade. A usually small or medium-sized tree, one in Maine is recorded as 29 metres in height. In the boreal north there can be extensive pure stands, and elsewhere it may be a pure stand or mixed with a variety of other trees.
In the spring the buds will start to swell, and begin opening in April, with the needles appearing shortly afterwards. The solitary, small male and female flowers will appear at the same time as the needles on trees that are sufficiently mature. Male flowers are yellow, globose and usually on 1- or 2-year-old branchlets. The female flowers are reddish, usually on older branchlets. The brown, upright, egg-shaped cones are about 1 cm. in length, ripen in the fall, but may remain on the tree for several years.
In abundant light in boreal forests it is one of the fastest growing conifers, though the growth rate decreases sharply after 40 to 50 years. In peat lands where the peat is water-saturated, it is much slower growing. The root system is shallow, and on peat lands where the upper layer of peat is drained, it will grow well as a straight, slender tree with a narrow, pyramidal crown.
Healthy, open-grown trees from 50 to 150 years old may bear as many as 20,000 cones containing more than 300,000 full seeds in a good year. The seeds, about 3 mm in length, have light chestnut-brown wings, but rarely fall farther from the tree than the tree is tall. A favourite food of rodents, and also affected by fungi and bacteria, less than five percent of the seeds may germinate. White-tailed deer and moose apparently browse seedlings or saplings. Porcupines commonly feed on the inner bark and deform the stem or kill the tree. Red squirrels often cut cone-bearing branchlets, and birds such as the red crossbill occasionally eat the seeds. Various insects can damage a tree including the larch sawfly, the spruce budworm and others.
By mid-November the yellow is turning to a medium dull brown and before the snows arrive, the spills fall. Come next summer we can again enjoy the soft delicate green needles of the new growth.