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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Anderson

Seeing Red? It might be a Tamarack

Don’t we all want the best of both worlds?  Meet Larch, a type of pine tree that also is deciduous. Its needles turn a brilliant yellow-orange in fall before dropping to the ground.  

No one really knows why Larch laricina loses its needles in winter.  Possibly to shore up nutrients that would otherwise go to the needles.  Or it could be an evolutionary adaptation: The needles might increase the risk of heavy snow breaking branches.

Native Range

Also called Tamarack, Larch does love the severe winters of the boreal forests far north in Canada.  Its native range (see map) dips down through New England and south to the higher elevations in West Virginia.  Larch is hardy to Zone 6. 


It likes full sun but does not like heat, and it grows best in moist, well-drained soils such as along stream banks, lakes and swamp edges.

Tamarack has shallow roots and rarely grows a taproot.  In cultivation, it will grow beautifully by itself or as part of a copse or hedge.  Shrubs including Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) and Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) make nice companions. 

While not massive like the Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), Larch may reach heights of 70 feet or more and has a slender trunk of about 20 inches.  It has nice gray, flaky bark with a reddish underside.

Cones and Needles Its needles are soft and short, about an inch long, and anywhere from 10 to 20 will arrange in whorls along the tree's trunk and branches. They appear bright green in spring, turning to blue-green in summer.

Inside the needles the flowers appear, eventually maturing into the smallest of the coniferous cones, about a half-inch. 

Both male and female cones appear on different branches of a single tree.  The male cones are soft and covered with yellow pollen blown in the wind in hopes that some will settle on a female cone.

The females are larger and reddish and situate themselves on top of the branches.  Unlike the male cones, which fall off, the females darken and harden as they ripen, eventually opening up to release their seeds, and hang on all winter.  

Supporting Wildlife

Larch serves as a larval host to the Columbia Silkmoth as well as the Eye-spotted BudMoth, several species of sphinx, and a moth known as the Pine Measuringworm. 

The Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-backed Woodpecker and Cedar Waxwing are among birds that use the Tamarack for nesting.  You might also see Bald Eagles and Ospreys nesting in its tall, slender, mostly horizontal branches.

Bald Eagle flying
Bald Eagle. Photo: Matt Degnan

Fun facts

#1: Larch also is called Hackmatack, which is indigenous for “wood used for snowshoes.”  Larch’s principal commercial use was as transparent paper in window envelopes.

#2: Native Americans used the slender roots of the Larch to sew together strips of birch bark to make canoes.

#3: Early settlers used the curving roots to make “knees” in shipbuilding to avoid having to steam and then bend wood.  Traditional boat builders in New England still harvest Larch for this use. (Rooted in Cheyenne)


About the author:

Jennifer Anderson is the owner of Tree Talk Natives, a native tree and plant nursery in Rochester, Mass. She loves to talk native plants and can be reached at



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Apr 08

I had no idea that my favorite raptor, osprey, nests in these!

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