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Larix kaempferi

Larix kaempferi
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Scientific name: Larix kaempferi   (A. Lambert) Carrière   1856

Synonyms: Abies kaempferi (Lamb.) Lindl., Abies leptolepis Siebold & Zucc., Laricopsis kaempferi (Lamb.) A.H.Kent, Larix japonica Carrière, Larix japonica A.Murray, Larix leptolepis (Siebold & Zucc.) Gordon, Larix orientalis Thunb., Pinus japonica Thunb., Pinus kaempferi Lamb., Pinus larix Thunb., Pinus leptolepis (Siebold & Zucc.) Endl., Pinus nummularia Gordon, Pseudolarix kaempferi (Lamb.) Gordon

Common names: Japanese larch, Karamatsu (Japanese)



Tree to 25(-33) m tall, with trunk to 1(1.3) m in diameter. Bark gray with red highlights, smooth at first, becoming flaky and finally deeply furrowed between flat-topped ridges at the base of large trunks. Crown narrowly conical at first, broadening and flattening greatly with age in open-grown trees, with numerous slender, long, horizontal branches. New branchlets yellowish brown to reddish brown, often waxy, slightly hairy or hairless, obviously grooved between the attached leaf bases. Buds conical to almost spherical, small, about 3-5 mm long, dark reddish brown, a little resinous. Needles of spur shorts straight, 20-35 on each spur, soft, (1-)1.5-2.5(-3.5) cm long, and 0.7-1 mm wide, bluish green, turning bright yellow in autumn before falling. Midrib raised beneath, with a few obscure lines of stomates above with about five lines of stomates in a white stomatal band on either side beneath. Pollen cones oblong, 5-6(-10) mm long, yellowish brown. Seed cones broadly egg-shaped to almost spherical, 1.5-3(-3.5) cm long, with (20-)30-40(-50) seed scales, bluish green with red edges before maturity, ripening brown, on a stout, curved stalk about 5 mm long. Seed scales round, the tip flat or slightly notched, curled back conspicuously at maturity. Bracts 5-7 mm long, half to two-thirds as long as the seed scales and hidden by them, except at the base of the cones, elongately triangular, the tip rounded, with a short bristle tip 1-2 mm long. Seed body 3-4 mm long, without resin pockets, the firmly clasping wing another 7-11 mm longer. The species name honors Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716), one of the first European botanists to visit Japan.

Mountains of central Honshu (Japan), from Gifu to Fukushima prefectures. Forming pure stands or mixed with other conifers mostly on volcanic soils in montane and subalpine forests, and even forming an alpine scrub on Mount Fuji; (500-)1,200-2,700(-2,900) m. The climate is cold, with snowy winters and abundant rain in cool summers.


Conservation Status

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern

This species has a fairly restricted range in central Honshu, Japan. It is an extremely important timber tree and although it has been heavily exploited over time, there has been supplemental re-planting of the species essentially for commercial reasons. The provenance of the supplemental material is unknown, and it is likely that this comes from forestry sources, which is most likely improved or at least had some selection involved. It is impossible to distinguish natural trees from planted individuals, and there is also inter-breeding, so effectively the whole population is slowly being altered over time to being of mixed genetic origin. To what degree this genetic contamination results in any genetic decline is not known. As it is impossible to distinguish between the wild population and the introduced population, the species has to either be assessed as Data Deficient or Least Concern. Larix kaempferi is a species of mesic sites, occurring from the hills to high in the mountains (500 m to 2,300 m a.s.l.), on the south face of Fuji san it reaches 2,900 m. Unlike the other NE Asiatic larches it occupies better soils, often of recent volcanic origin, and is never found on peat. It is commonly found in association with other conifers, e.g. Pinus densiflora, Picea jezoensis subsp. hondoensis, Tsuga diversifolia, Abies homolepis at lower elevations, and Abies veitchii at higher elevations, but it is clearly a sub-climax species. Several broad-leaved tree genera are present at the lower elevations, e.g. Quercus, Fagus and Betula. Pure 'scrub stands' may occur at the upper limit of trees. Has been heavily exploited in the past for its timber – was used for house building, etc. But after logging, seedlings were planted back in the area again. So although the natural population has been logged, because there has been supplemental planting the exploitation can be considered not to have been that damaging as far as we can tell. The question is whether or not the seedlings were from the same subpopulation or were from a different subpopulation, or worse yet, from cultivated (improved) sources. Without further knowledge about the provenance of the seedling material one has to assume that these are introductions and thus over the long-term the population remains fairly stable. Phytopthora ramorum has been recorded to be sporulating in Larix kaempferi plants planted in Europe: if this were to spread to the native population in Japan, it could pose a problem. Japanese larch is an important timber tree in Japan and in Europe (Scotland), where it has been introduced in 1834. The wood is similar to that of European larch and is used for construction, railway sleepers, pit props and the pulp industry. It is also a frequently planted amenity tree in parks and large gardens and a limited number of cultivars are known. In Scotland, a spontaneous hybrid occurred around 1900 between Larix kaempferi and Larix decidua which was named Larix x eurolepis Henry (but is correctly named Larix x marschlinsii Coaz based on an earlier crossing event) and shows marked F1 hybrid vigour or heterosis. Its seed cones resemble those of Larix kaempferi with recurved scale apices, but are larger. This fast growing hybrid became much favoured by foresters and has been propagated and planted widely in many parts of Europe, often involving back-crosses with either parents. Despite this greater production of timber per ha/year of the hybrid, Japanese larch remains an important plantation tree for timber on poorer soils, where neither the hybrid not the other parent do so well and where much of Europe's plantation forestry is situated (the better soils being occupied by agriculture mostly for food crops). Part of the range falls inside a protected area, but much is outside. Larix kaempferi has also been planted back into the Yatsukaga-Chushin Kogen Quasi National Park.



  • 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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