The WALA Plant Library

Synonyms for Larch: European larch
Scientific Name: Larix decidua Mill.
Family: Pinaceae (Pine family)


In autumn and winter it becomes obvious that the larch is not like other conifers. Unlike its relatives, as winter approaches this elegant tree sheds its needles after they have turned bright yellow. Mounds of larch needles and dead larch twigs then litter the forest floor and are a familiar sight to lovers of winter walks in the woods. The twigs are covered in clearly visible little spurs: the points from which the needles sprouted. The following spring the larch, which can grow to a height of 50 metres, develops new, strong, light-green needles which grow in soft little tufts along the branches and never become as hard as those of their coniferous cousins. The tree blossoms from March to May and the flowers are separated according to gender, although both grow on the same tree. The male catkins are about one centimetre long and dangle, round and pale yellow, from the branches. The female flowers are pink to dark-red in colour, and after fertilisation they develop into cones which stand upright on the twigs and grow to about three centimetres in length. The following year winged seeds ripen in the cones. Once they have flown away the cones remain hanging on the tree and only fall about 10 years later, together with the twig on which they grew.
The larch makes its home in high places, seeking light, open spaces where it can spread its branches unhindered by shade. As a tree of the high mountains it can withstand extremes of temperature from minus 40 C to intense summer heat. Its demands in respect of soil and water supply are modest. Its strong roots penetrate up to four metres deep into the earth where they find reserves of water and anchor in stormy weather.