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European Larch

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SCIENTIFIC NAME: Larix decidua
FAMILY: Pinaceae

This tree in Colorado The European larch is an under-utilized conversation piece in Colorado. It functions very effectively in larger landscapes as specimens or groupings. Like the majority of trees, it performs best in acidic, established soils. Once established, the larch requires only moderate moisture, making it an easy fit for most manicured landscapes. The European larch should be transplanted when dormant, as planting during the growing season can result in severe shock. There are no significant diseases of larches present in Colorado and few elsewhere. One precautionary note: although the European larch requires a sunny location, it languishes in heat and should not be sited in areas that will receive reflective heat; it is best in established areas with larger trees (a cooler micro-climate).

Hardiness Zones 3A to 6. Quite cold-hardy and needs to be protected from reflective heat.

Growth rate, form and size Larches grow quickly in comparison to most other conifers and can gain two feet of height in a growing season. This tree will be gracefully pyramidal with drooping branchlets in its youth, and it becomes more rigid and open as it reaches maturity. The European larch can grow to 70′ tall and 25′ wide or wider at maturity. The top three European larches on Colorado’s Champion Tree Registry are all over 70′ tall and 45′ wide.

Foliage Sprays of single needles cluster along the branches, emerging as a bright green in spring, turning deeper green and finally yellow or orange in fall. A deciduous conifer — its fall color can be spectacular.

Flowers and cones The European larch flowers in the spring, with flower color varying from red to yellow and green. The fruit produced is a 1″ long cone and is nearly round.

Bark The bark is thin and scaly on young trees, becoming deeply fissured on older trees. The color typically varies from a cinnamon brown to a dull gray brown.

Cultivars Finding this tree in nurseries takes some searching in Colorado. As the tree is infrequently planted here, few nurseries carry quantities of the tree. There are a few cultivars in production — all selected based on physiological quirks within the genetic diversity of the European larch — but they are extremely rare in commerce.

Landscape value This tree should either be planted as a single specimen tree or in symmetrical groupings. When planted near other trees, it can become lop-sided because of its shade intolerance and tendency to self-prune.

Information sources
Michael Dirr, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants (University of Georgia, 1990)
Michael Dirr, Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs (1997)
Edward F. Gilman, Trees for the Urban and Suburban Landscapes (1997)
Botanica’s Trees & Shrubs (Botanica, 1999)

Picture credits
Gil Wojciech, Polish Forest Research Institute
Paul Wray, Iowa State University, Forestry Images
Waldhang
University of Washington, Center of Urban Horticulture and UW Photo Archive
University of Wisconsin