While celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday with family in northern Alberta this past weekend, I had a chance to take in the glorious sight of stands of my very favourite tree, all bedecked in autumn splendour. Larch trees aren’t commonly found in my neck of the woods, but for a few ornamental specimens in yards and in parks – it’s probably too dry out here for them to thrive. In the Peace Country, however, larch trees abound – and this time of year, they are particularly gorgeous. Most of the larch growing up north are tamarack larch (Larix laricina), although there are also planted stands of the non-native Siberian larch (Larix siberica), which is often used as a shelterbelt tree. Another Alberta larch is the alpine Larix lyallii, which is found in the southeastern portion of the Rocky Mountains. And…there are the highly architectural ornamental European larch, Larix decidua ‘Pendula’, with their deliberately dwarfed, weeping habit. (I’m not a fan of the shape, but weeping larch can definitely serve their purpose as dramatic specimen plants in a formal bed – they’re certain to capture attention. You can buy ‘Pendula’ in your local nursery). Larch are extremely slow-growing and long-lived trees that love getting their feet wet – much like willows, larch perform best in moist, well-drained soil. You’ll find tamarack larch in bogs in the far northern part of the province, or they may border wetlands and creeks.
What is the reason I’m so fond of larch trees, you may ask? It’s all about the leaves, actually! In summer, larch trees possess the softest grey-green needles you’ll find on a conifer – they’re like tiny delicate feathers, and I can’t resist touching them every time I go near a tree. Because of these needles, larch trees aren’t dense and ponderous-looking like some pine trees, or weighty and rigid like many spruce. And…get this…the needles of larch trees turn blazing, bright yellow in autumn and then drop off, just like the leaves of deciduous trees. It’s just so…un-conifer-like, and unique in the plant world. I think it’s simply amazing.
Enjoy the colours of the season!