Any of about 10–12 species of coniferous trees that make up the genus Larix of the pine family, native to cool temperate and sub-Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Though the larch has the pyramid shape typical of conifers, it sheds its short, light-green, needlelike leaves in autumn. The most widespread North American larch, the tamarack, or eastern larch (L. laricina), matures in 100–200 years, may grow 40–100 ft (12–30 m) tall, and has gray to reddish-brown bark. Coarse-grained, strong, hard, and heavy, larch wood is useful in ship construction and for telephone poles, mine timbers, and railroad ties.
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Larches are conifers in the genus Larix, in the family Pinaceae. They are native to much of the cooler temperate northern hemisphere, on lowlands in the far north, and high on mountains further south. Larches are among the dominant plants in the immense boreal forests of Russia and Canada.
They are deciduous trees, growing from 15-50 m tall. 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, 2-5 cm long, slender (under 1 mm wide). They are borne singly, spirally arranged on the long shoots, and in dense clusters of 20-50 needles on the short shoots. The needles turn yellow and fall in the late autumn, leaving the trees leafless through the winter.
Larch cones are erect, small, 1-9 cm long, green or purple, ripening brown 5-8 months after pollination; in about half the species the bract scales are long and visible, and in the others, short and hidden between the seed scales. Those native to northern regions have small cones (1-3 cm) with short bracts, with more southerly species tending to have longer cones (3-9 cm), often with exserted bracts, with the longest cones and bracts produced by the southernmost species, in the Himalaya.
Most if not all of the species can be hybridised in cultivation. The best known hybrid is the Dunkeld Larch Larix × marschlinsii (syn. L. × eurolepis, an illegitimate name), which arose more or less simultaneously in Switzerland and Scotland when L. decidua and L. kaempferi hybridised when planted together.
Larches are prone to the fungal canker disease Lachnellula willkommii (Larch Canker); this is particularly a problem on sites prone to late spring frosts, which cause minor injuries to the tree allowing entry to the fungal spores.
In central Europe larch is viewed as one of the best wood materials for the building of residences. Planted on borders with birch, both tree species were used in pagan "sagged" cremations. One "sąg" (pronounced song) of wood was required for a cremation stack. Sąg is used today as a Polish forestry unit measuring approximately 3 × 1 × 1 m.
In Siberia young larch leaves are harvested in spring, preserved by lactobacillus fermentation, and used for salads during winter.
Larches are often used in bonsai culture, where their knobby bark, small needles, fresh spring foliage and especially autumn colour are appreciated. European Larch, Japanese Larch and Tamarack Larch are the species most commonly trained as bonsai.
The tree mainly used as a running joke in Monty Python sketches (And now... Number one...) is the larch.