The European Larch

Spring larch (1)

The European larch (Larix decidua) or Learóg in Irish is unique amongst conifers in this part of the world because it sheds its needle shaped leaves in autumn.  Conifers are usually evergreen. It is a native of mountainous regions in Central Europe and the Pyrenees.  The drooping twigs from the flexible side branches give this conifer a graceful appearance but also help to dispel snow from lodging on the tree.

Larch with darker hue (2) Credit E. Ó Murchú
Golden foliage (3) Credit E. Ó Murchú

The lovely, soft light green foliage emerges in April in tufts along the branches (1).  As the summer progresses, however, this light green changes to a darker hue (2).  In October, the foliage turns a golden-brown in colour (3).  When a large group of larches is seen in a plantation the sight can be spectacular in autumn as the colours in the body of trees merge in a golden haze.

Larch with cones (4) Credit E. Ó Murchú

The male and female flowers which form in March and April on the tree are wind pollinated.  These female flowers change to oval shaped green cones after fertilisation which turn brown in the autumn (4). The seeds within develop triangular wings which are spread by the wind far and wide.

Herb table made from larch (5)

The seeds within the cones are eaten by squirrels, crossbills and siskins.
Larch is valued greatly as a commercial timber because it grows rapidly and is ready for use after about forty years.  It grows about 10 cm a week in the summer.
The wood of larch is tough and resilient.  It is often used for fencing, cladding on sheds and houses, gates and garden furniture such as raised beds and arches because it will not rot, warp or shrink (5).