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EUROPEAN LARCH

COMMON LARCH

Larix decidua

Pine Family [Pinaceae]

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category
category8Trees
category
category8Deciduous
category
category8Coniferous
status
statusZneophyte
flower
flower8red
 
flower
flower8purple
 
flower
flower8pink
 
inner
inner8green
 
morph
morph8zygo
 
petals
petalsZ0
 
stem
stem8round
 
stem
stem8ribbed
 
smell
smell8aromatic
aromatic
toxicity
toxicityZlowish
 
sex
sexZmonoecious
 

8th April 2011, R. Bain, Bainbridge, Hawes, Yorks Dales. Photo: © RWD
Larches are the only coniferous plants in the UK which shed their leaves in Winter. European Larch grows to 46m high. Some of the branches of larch trees are often characteristically at higglety-pigglety angles to each other.


8th April 2011, R. Bain, Bainbridge, Hawes, Yorks Dales. Photo: © RWD
  Early in the year the flowers emerge, separate male and female flowers but on the same plant (monoecious). The pale fawn coloured ones are male and point downwards, as here.


8th April 2011, R. Bain, Bainbridge, Hawes, Yorks Dales. Photo: © RWD
 Whereas the female flowers are a much showier red and upright.


8th April 2011, R. Bain, Bainbridge, Hawes, Yorks Dales. Photo: © RWD
   A proud upright red female flower in amongst despondent drooping fawn male flowers. The flowers appear March to April; the males after the females have appeared.


8th April 2011, R. Bain, Bainbridge, Hawes, Yorks Dales. Photo: © RWD
 The female flowers have a greenish-brown needle-leaf-like mid-part of the broader red parts.


8th April 2011, R. Bain, Bainbridge, Hawes, Yorks Dales. Photo: © RWD
 Recently opened female flowers have shorter white mid-ribs.


8th April 2011, R. Bain, Bainbridge, Hawes, Yorks Dales. Photo: © RWD
 Male flowers - the (opened) anthers.


8th April 2011, R. Bain, Bainbridge, Hawes, Yorks Dales. Photo: © RWD
 Opened anthers of the male flowers.


8th April 2011, R. Bain, Bainbridge, Hawes, Yorks Dales. Photo: © RWD
 A somewhat deformed cone. this one has probably remained on the tree for several years, as many do.


8th April 2011, R. Bain, Bainbridge, Hawes, Yorks Dales. Photo: © RWD
The branch twigs have prominent linear scales as part of their bark. The leaves (often called 'needles') are linear, 2-3cm long and pale green turning yellow in Autumn before falling off.


8th April 2011, R. Bain, Bainbridge, Hawes, Yorks Dales. Photo: © RWD
The bole of the tree with grey-pink bark. Your Author forgot to take a closer photo of it...




A WEEPING CULTIVAR OF LARIX DECIDUA

Visually, these two specimens seem to conform to Larix decidua in all aspects apart from the long 'weeping' nature especially of the lower branches.

3rd June 2013, Fernilee Resr, Derbys. Photo: © RWD
Your Author has seen other weeping specimens like this before, some he thinks near the FSC Blencathra Centre near Threlkeld, Cumbria. He will check next month...


3rd June 2013, Fernilee Resr, Derbys. Photo: © RWD
The long branches of leaves droop down for a considerable length. European Larch also has pendulous shoots like this, but not usually this long.


3rd June 2013, Fernilee Resr, Derbys. Photo: © RWD
Like 'lianas'.


3rd June 2013, Fernilee Resr, Derbys. Photo: © RWD
They are well populated with (now spent) male flowers (the small brown bobbles) interspersed with tufts of needle leaves.


3rd June 2013, Fernilee Resr, Derbys. Photo: © RWD
The needle leaves. Unlike other Coniferous Trees, the leaves of European Larch are deciduous, dropping off in winter. [Although the evergreen nature of other Confiferous trees does not mean they never shed leaves; many shed them continuously, especially during the summer months, but never to the extent of dropping all of them].


3rd June 2013, Fernilee Resr, Derbys. Photo: © RWD
The prominent discontinuous ridges along the bark of twigs is typical of Larch.


3rd June 2013, Fernilee Resr, Derbys. Photo: © RWD
 The spent male flowers.


3rd June 2013, Fernilee Resr, Derbys. Photo: © RWD
 


3rd June 2013, Fernilee Resr, Derbys. Photo: © RWD
 A typical mature cone. The scales do not turn over at the lip.


Easily mistaken for : Japanese Larch Larix kaempferi which is slightly shorter at 37m and the seed cones turn both outwards and over at the lip. It is native not to the UK but to Japan where it can be trained as a bonsai. It too is widely planted in UK forestry plantations, but is being superseded by Hybrid Larch which is more vigorous and faster at producing timber.

Hybridizes with : Japanese Larch Larix kaempferi to produce Hybrid Larch Larix × marschlinsii which is shorter than either parents at only 30m high and the bark is reddish-brown rather than the grey-pink bark of European Larch. Hybrid Larch has larger cones than does Japanese Larch. Hybrid Larch has scales on the cones which curve outwards at the lip and are angled away from the cone, rather similar to the way they are on Japanese Larch.

There are many other Larches, but these do not grow wild in the UK, but are instead planted, many being cultivars.

Uniquely identifiable characteristics

Distinguishing Feature : Larix is the only species of conifer tree that sheds its leaves over winter (that is, it is deciduous, not evergreen as are all other coniferous trees).

European Larch originates in the Alpine regions of Austria, Switzerland and Germany and other places where it grows at great altitudes (up to 2500m above sea level). It is monoecious, with separate male and female flowers but with both growing on the same tree. The male flowers are called 'strobili' and are fawn coloured and always angled downwards. The female flowers are bright red, always angled upwards and will eventually become the seed cones in early Spring and before the leaves have re-appeared. The seed cones often remain on the tree for years. The colour of the seed cones varies from pink-purple to red. The leaves are long, linear needles which are bright green to begin with in April, but turn yellow in Autumn before falling off to carpet the forest floor. The bark is grey-pink.

European Larch used to be a popular tree for forestry plantations, where it can also self-seed, but was overtaken in popularity by Hybrid Larch aka Dunkeld Larch which grows faster and more vigorously but reaches less height (32m instead of the 40m for European Larch) and is less wide (8m rather than the 15m wide of European Larch) and is also more resistant to disease than either of its parents.

Both Labdanes and Abietanes are resinous and aromatic compounds. They are all isoPrenoids which all originate from iso-Pentenyl PyroPhospate which occurs in many (all??) plants.

LABDANE DITERPENOIDS

The labdanes are terpenoids with two fused 6-membered carbon rings.



Larixol Acetate is an ester and being such probably smells even better than the other two compounds. But all will contribute to the aroma of European Larch trees, as well as the abietane diterpenoids below.




ABIETANE DITERPENOIDS

The abietanes are terpenoids with three fused 6-membered carbon rings in a slightly-bent Phenanthrene arrangement rather than the linear Napthalene arrangement.




The terpenoids and diterpenoids found within the wood of European Larch are 26% α-Terpineol, 14% IsoBorneol, 12% Camphene, 10% D-Fenchyl Alcohol and 5% Larixol (a diol), whereas the bark contains 33% Larixol, 17% Phthalic Acid mono-EthylHexylEster, 15% 13-epiManool and 8% CycloHexane.

The predominant lipophilic components of the heartwood are iso-Pimaric Acid and Larixyl Acetate. Also the aldehyde iso-Pimaral and dehydro-Abietal

Venice Turpentine is produced from European Larch.

A PHTHALIC ACID ESTER


Your Author can only find one source quoting this compound as a constituent of European Larch; whether or not it is, your Author does not know. This substance is used widely as a plasticizer within plastics, especially in PVC (PolyVinylChloride) to make them less brittle and more pliable. But Phthalates are toxic, the ones with less than 6 carbon atoms in the side chains being more so. They also endocrine disruptors and alter hormone levels and can cause birth defects. Although they may not be as toxic as some of the notorious Bisphenols, which are also widely used in plastics as plasticizer. These too are endocrine disruptors some with the ability to change the sex of fish and affect other aquatic life.



  Larix decidua  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Pinaceae  

Distribution
 family8Pine family8Pinaceae

 BSBI maps
genus8Larix
Larix
(Larches)

EUROPEAN LARCH

COMMON LARCH

Larix decidua

Pine Family [Pinaceae]