THE LARCHES - FAMILY CONIFERAE. Genus LARIX Adans. Tall pyramidal trees, with few horizontal branches. Leaves linear, deciduous ; fascicled except on new shoots. Flowers solitary, moncecious, naked. Fruit annual, woody cones, soli tary, erect and sessile on the twig. Wood hard, heavy, resinous.
KeY TO SPECIES A. Cones less than I inch long, almost globular ; smooth; leaves, 3-angled ; bracts not visible between scales.
(L. Americana) TAMARACK AA. Cones more than 6 inches long, oblong, with prominent pointed bracts between scales.
B. Leaves 3-angled ; twigs downy at first.
(L. occidentalis) WESTERN LARCH BB. Leaves 4-angled, blue-green ; twigs hairy.
(L. Lyallii) ALPINE LARCH The distinction of the genus Larix is its deciduous habit. One other conifer sheds its leaves every autumn. The clustering of the leaves in fascicles on short lateral spurs is unique also. Only the terminal shoots bear scattered leaves.
Beside the three North American species there are six Old World larches—all in the colder latitudes of the Northern Hemi sphere, except a single Himalayan species. The native species are inferior to exotics in cultivation. The handsomest larch for lawns is L. leptolepis, Murr. (L. Kcempferi, Sarg.), a Japanese species with pale blue-green, white-lined leaves. The common larch of Europe, L. decidua, Mill., is most frequently met with in cultivation here. It is a graceful, pyramidal tree, slender and supple limbed,with a fresh cover of feathery leaves every spring. In autumn the foliage turns yellow before it is shed. The Hima layan L. Griffithi is not hardy in the North. It is cultivated in its handsome pendulous forms.
Larches are cultivated as timber trees in Europe and to some extent in America. The European species is chosen for this pur pose. Larch wood is very durable, heavy and hard. Rich in resin, yet not easily ignited. It does not splinter, and hence was preferred for the building of battleships before the day when steel came in to replace wood. Larch timbers built into the old est of French castles are sound when the stones that support them are crumbling. It is believed that larch will outlast oak.
The wood of L. occidentalis ranks higher than any other coni ferous kind.
Larches are readily grown from seed and easily transplanted, even when quite large, if the work is done while the trees are dormant. They are admirable for windbreaks and shelter belts, to which uses they are put in the Middle West and along the coast in Massachusetts. They grow rapidly and profitably for posts, railroad ties and telegraph poles, as they are straight and free from large knots, being pruned by close contact with neigh bours in the plantation rows.
In the fine arts larch wood has had its place. Raphael painted many of his earliest pictures on larch boards. Other painters of his time followed his example. Canvas had not then been generally adopted as a safe foundation for a painting. Old, dry larch wood from trees growing on the high Alps and Apennines looked almost transparent when polished. It was made into tables and cabinets of rare workmanship, and brought extravagant prices. From those superb larch forests it was not unusual to take out a ship's mast 120 feet high I Minor products of larches are turpentine and an extract of tannin obtained from the European species.
Tamarack (Larix Americana, slender, pyra midal tree, 5o to 6o feet high, with feeble horizontal branches, becoming pendulous. Bark thin, broken into reddish scales. Wood heavy, hard, light brown, strong, coarse grained, resin ous, durable in wet soil. Buds small, globular, red, shining. Leaves soft, deciduous, fascicled on side spurs, scattered on terminal shoots ; linear, triangular, tot inch long ; autumn color, yellow. Flowers: moncecious, sessile, borne on short branchlets ; pistillate rosy, ovate, with conspicuous finger-like points on bracts ; staminate yellow, squat. Fruit small cones with concave, plain scales, bearing winged seeds ; annual. Pre ferred habitat, cold swamps and northern slopes of mountains. Distribution, Newfoundland and Hudson Bay west across the Rocky Mountains ; south into Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania. Uses: Posts, telegraph poles, railroad ties and ships' timbers.