Western larch

Larix occidentalis
Western larch Western larch

Like all larches, it loses its needles in the autumn. This large, handsome tree can grow to 80 metres tall and 850 years of age.

Western larch leaves

Leaves
New needles are soft green, turning golden yellow in the fall, and broadly triangular in cross section. They are long, clustered in bunches of 15 to 30 on stubby, woody projections which remain on the twig after the needles fall.

Cones
Seed cones are elongated and red to reddish-brown. The scales have white hairs on the lower surface and prominent, long slender bracts. Pollen cones are yellow.

Western larch cone
Western larch bark Bark
Mature trees develop thick, grooved plate-like bark with cinnamon-coloured scales (similar to ponderosa pine bark).

Where to find western larch
It grows in valleys and on the lower slopes of mountains in the southern Interior.

Habitat
Western larch usually grows in mixed forests but can occasionally be found in pure groups of trees after a severe wildfire. It demands full sunlight and grows well on fire-blackened soil. Fire releases nutrients which it uses to grow faster than its companion species.

Low temperatures limit the distribution of western larch. It is quite sensitive to frost damage because it continues to grow from bud-burst in spring through to September; most evergreen conifers stop growing in mid-July.

Where to find western larch
Uses
Aboriginal people seldom used western larch wood; however, they mixed the dried pitch with grease and used it as a cosmetic. Dried powdered pitch was also an ingredient of a red paint applied to wood or buckskin.Caution

The wood of western larch is one of the strongest in Canada. It is often used in heavy construction and for railway ties and pilings.

Western larch
Notes
The thick bark of mature western larch and its habit of shedding lower branches make this species resistant to fire.

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