Larix decidua - European Larch

Origin and Distribution

The European Larch is a mountain tree, which is native to the high montane and subalpine areas in the Alps. The European Larch grows in heights up to 2400 m above sea-level.  It belongs to the family of the pinaceae. Its generic name “Larix” dates back over 2000 years to the time of the first Roman Emperor.

Description

The European Larch is the only domestic deciduous conifer. It loses its needles during autumn, after a beautiful yellow colouring, and early starts to shoot again in a light green in April. The needles are gathered in bunches on short sprouts, which hang on longer branches. Especially in spring times the European Larch is a very attractive plant due to its female, red, cone-like flowers and the light green needles. The small brown cones complement the decorative appearance of the branches.  

The European Larch is a fast growing tree, which can reach a height of up to 35 m in total. The tree crown is narrow and cone-shaped.

To overcome heat and drought in great heights the European Larch has developed a deep going root system. The European Larch is not very demanding when it comes to soil; it prefers fresh and nutrient-rich places and is very frost resistant. Nevertheless, the European Larch needs a lot of light.

Interesting Facts

In former days it was tried to foster the European Larchs’ growth by withdrawing its competitors. That’s how sparse forests evolved, which could then be used for grazing. 

The European Larch has also been used as a robust pioneer plant. Due to the loss of its needles in autumn time the quality of the soil is improved. The deep going root system strengthens the tree against wind and storm.

The bark of the tree can be used for tanning, whilst the resin is used to produce turpentine oil. The wood of the European Larch is together with the wood of the yew tree one of the hardest and most robust types of domestic softwood.

Garden Design

Being the steadiest softwood, containing a high amount of resin, it is a very popular, weatherproof building material to use in outdoor areas. It is used for timbering, fences, screening walls, floors, railway sleepers and underwater constructions.

The early shoot of the needles announces spring time and the golden-yellow colouring beams in autumn. Although, as the European Larch demands for a lot of space, sun and windy places to grow, it is not suitable for every garden.

The European Larch can also be used as cut hedge.

For the well-known bonsai topiaries in garden design the Japanese Larch (Larix kaempferi) is usually used.