University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
LARCHES LARGE AND SMALL
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
see a tall, very pyramidal tree along roads and wet areas with lovely yellow
fall color, it may be our native eastern larch (Larix laricina). The eastern
larch, the related European larch, and their much shorter cultivars (cultivated
varieties) make lovely landscape plants, if sited properly.
are interesting in that with their short (one inch long), blue-green needle-like
leaves they look like evergreens, but they aren’t. After their leaves turn a golden yellow in autumn
they fall, so these trees are “deciduous” just like maples and oaks. But, since trees produce brown cones for
fruiting structures, they are referred to as deciduous “conifers”— a rare
combination as most conifers (such as the pines, which they are in the same
family with) are evergreen. Other
deciduous conifers include the dawn redwood, bald cypress, and ginkgo.
eastern or American larch is native to much of North America, from Alaska
across Canada, down to the Midwestern and southern New England states. Since it tolerates salt, you may see it along
the coasts of New England and eastern Canada.
As you might surmise from its native range, it is quite hardy—from USDA
zones 3 to perhaps 5 (annual average minimum air temperature of -40 to -10
and the other larches grow well in average soils, but also in acidic peaty (low
pH) soils or wet soils. It doesn’t grow
well in dry soils, nor does it tolerate air pollution of urban areas. Larches
need full sun, but some may tolerate part shade (4 to 6 hours of direct sun
50 to 60 feet high when mature, and 30 to 40 feet across at the base, the
larch is best sited in large landscapes with plenty of
space. There are a few cultivars that
much smaller that you may find, suitable for small
residential landscapes or rock gardens.
‘Lanark’ makes a green globe shape, only about 4 feet high and
wide. ‘Newport Beauty’ is about half
this size, 2 feet high and wide, forming a cushion with dense stems. ‘Deborah
Waxman’ has the pyramidal shape of the species, but only grows about 5 feet
high and 3 feet wide in the first 10 years.
European larch (Larix decidua) is
even larger, growing at maturity about 80 feet high and 40 to 50 feet
wide. You may find the much smaller
‘Pendula’ with weeping shape and branches.
It only grows to 10 to 15 feet tall and 6 to 10 feet across. ‘Puli’ is a
European larch that too is weeping, but with branches close to the trunk. It
commonly reaches 6 to 8 feet high, and 2 feet wide.
native of northern and central Europe is seen there as forests in the mountains
of central European countries. It is
similar to the eastern larch in needs, except it is more tolerant of dry
soils. It is quicker growing and has
larger cones than our native larch. Although
not quite as winter hardy (maybe through zone 4, or to -30 degrees), the
European larch is fine for all but the coldest northern landscapes. It will take some more heat than our native
larch, growing into the mid-Atlantic states (USDA zone 6, or to -10 degrees),
but suffers in more intense heat further south.
there is a third species of larch you often may find—the Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi)—native to the mountains
of Japan. It is very similar to the
European species, only grows into slightly hotter climates (USDA zone 7, or to
about 0 degrees F), and is slightly larger.
It is perhaps the most ornamental of the larches, again for large
other larches, there are cultivar choices of the Japanese that you may find for
smaller landscapes. ‘Diana’ has weeping
branches and twisted leaves, growing to about 20 feet
high and about 10 feet wide (perhaps 8 feet high in the
first 10 years). Another weeping from is
‘Pendula’, usually seen about 4 to 6 feet high and 3 to 5 feet wide. ‘Nana’ is a common name meaning dwarf, which
this cultivar fits. Only growing about 3
to 4 feet high and wide, the rounded form is good in rock gardens or small
you’re looking for a really hardy larch, more unusual and less common, the
Dahurian larch (Larix gmelinii) and
some cultivars can be found at specialty nurseries selling dwarf conifers and
rock garden plants. With the species
being native to northeastern Siberia, this larch has a similar range to our
native eastern one, being quite intolerant of hot climates. Otherwise, growing conditions are similar to
the other larches. Usually you will find a dwarf cultivar of this species, the
most common being ‘Romberg Park’. In 10 years it only grows to about 2 feet
high and about 3 feet wide.