Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Tamarack

Tamarack needles and cone.

One of the only conifers to drop its needles, the tamarack (Larix laricina) or American larch grows in every province in Canada. They can reach heights of 10-20 metres or 33-66 feet. Its flexible needles are two- to three- centimetres (.4-1.2 inches) long and grow in tufts of up to 20. Spring through summer, they're light blue-green. They turn a brilliant yellow in autumn before falling to leave pale pinkish-brown shoots bare through winter.

The cones are one- to 2.3-centimetres (.4-.9 inches) long and egg-shaped with 12 to 25 seed scales. They are bright red, turning brown when ripe.

The trunk is up to 60 centimetres (23.6 inches)in diameter with smooth grey bark on young trees that turns reddish brown and scaly as the tree grows. Tamaracks tolerate a wide range of soil conditions; but, grow most commonly in swamps, bogs and lowland areas. They're one of the first trees to invade filled-lake bogs and one of the first to grow after a fire.

People have found many uses for tamarack wood, including making decoys, canoe parts and medicine. Its sap, which tastes like maple syrup, can be chewed like gum.

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