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Larix decidua

Larix decidua
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Scientific name: Larix decidua  Miller  1768

Synonyms: Abies larix Poir., Larix caducifolia Gilib., Larix communis Lindl., Larix europaea DC., Larix excelsa Link, Larix gracilis A.Dietr., Larix larix (L.) H.Karst., Larix pyramidalis Salisb., Larix sudetica Domin, Larix vulgaris Fisch. ex Spach, Peuce larix (L.) Rich., Pinus laeta Salisb., Pinus larix L.

Common names: European larch, Common larch, Mélèze d'Europe (French),  Larice comune (Italian), Gemeine Lärche, Europäische Lärche (German),  Modřín opadavý (Czech),  Smrekovec opadavý (Slovakian), Modrzew europejski (Polish)

 

Description

Tree to 35(-46) m tall, with trunk to 1(-1.8) m in diameter. Bark reddish brown to light gray, becoming furrowed, between irregular, interlacing, scaly, flat topped ridges. Crown narrowly conical at first, broadening with age and becoming flat-topped and wide spreading in open grown trees, with numerous long, horizontal branches upswept at the tips. New branchlets light yellowish or pinkish brown, hairless and without wax. Buds small, about 3 mm long, dark reddish brown, hairless, not resinous. Needles of spur shoots straight, (12-)20-40(-50) on each spur, soft, (1.5-)2-3(-4) cm long and 0.5-1(-1.5) mm wide light green, turning orange-yellow in autumn before falling. Midrib raised beneath and with a green stomatal band consisting of one to three lines of stomates on either side. Pollen cones almost spherical, 4-6 mm in diameter, elongating with age, light reddish brown. Seed cones half-again as long as wide, (1-)2-4(-5) cm long, with (25-)35-50(-70) seed scales, green with reddish edges before maturity, ripening brown and weathering gray, on a stout, curved stalk 5-10 mm long. Seed scales roundly diamond-shaped, the tip rounded not curling outward, finely hairy on both sides. Bracts about 5-6 mm long, shorter than and mostly hidden by the seed scales, rounded and continuing into a bristle tip another 2-3 mm long. Seed body 3-4 mm long, without resin pockets, the firmly clasping wing another 5-10 mm longer.

Discontinuously distributed in mountains of central and eastern Europe, from southeastern France and southwestern Italy to eastern Poland and central Romania, naturalized elsewhere in Europe and in North America. Usually mixed with other subalpine conifers in the southern mountains, also occurring at low elevations, especially northward; (200-)400-1,800(2,500) m. The climate has cool, moist summers and cold, snowy winters, but annual precipitation rarely exceeds 1,000 mm.

 

Conservation Status

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern

The species is widespread and common to abundant in much of its range, and is considered Least Concern at the global and EU28 member states levels. The European Larch is in fact expanding (northwards) with the abandonment of alpine cattle grazing in many parts of high altitude Europe. Larix decidua var. polonica has been assessed separately as it is Endangered. As this variety represents only a very small part of the European population and range, that assessment does not affect the overall assessment of the species. The overall population is thought to be stable, no major threats have been identified for this species. Pure stands are uncommon, more often it is mixed with Pinus cembra in the Alps, below 1,800 m also with Picea abies, in the central Alps it usually forms the tree limit. The wood of European larch is valued for its durability and has been used for centuries in the Alps and Carpathians to build houses; traditional style houses still use well-seasoned wood of this species. Other traditional uses are fences, gates, feeding racks, and water troughs for animals. Due to its durability, the wood of European larch has been used extensively for railway sleepers, until these were replaced by concrete and iron structures in modern times. Trees with a curved base were split and hollowed and the two halves joined to make 'Alphorns', large wind instruments with a far carrying low tone; competitions to blow the horn are still held in some regions of the Alps. This species has been introduced in the lowlands of Europe for plantation forestry as well as an amenity tree. In horticulture for gardens it is not so common, although a modest number of cultivars are known, most with various branching habits. The tree also has numerous recorded medicinal uses. Bark has been used as an astringent, balsamic, diuretic, expectorant, stimulant and to treat wounds, and to treat eczema and psoriasis (PFAF 2014). Resin is extracted and used directly (dried and powdered), and also used to produce turpentine (PFAF 2014). The resin (and the turpentine extracted) has a wide range of non-medicinal uses in wood preservatives and varnishes, and tannin extracted from the bark is also used (PFAF 2014). The species is present in numerous protected areas throughout its range, such as the Ojców National Park, southern Poland (Skrzypczyńska 2004). It is conserved ex situ, for example in Kostrzyca Forest Gene Bank, Poland (ENSCO 2014) and reported to occur in more than 100 botanic gardens worldwide (BCGI 2013).

 

References

  • Farjon, A. (2010). A Handbook of the World's Conifers. Koninklijke Brill, Leiden.
  • Eckenwalder, J.E. (2009) Conifers of the World: The Complete Reference. Timber Press, Portland.
  • IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Cambridge, UK /Gland, Switzerland

Copyright © Aljos Farjon, James E. Eckenwalder, IUCN, Conifers Garden. All rights reserved.



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