Larches: Types, Leaves, Cones - Identification Guide (Photos) (2023)


Larches (botanical namelarch) are tall, deciduous conifers with soft, needle-like leaves growing radially in small tufts on the branches. Larch trees can be recognized by their pyramidal habit, which is typical of most conifer species. However, unlike most conifers, larches turn golden yellow in the fall before shedding their leaves. Typically, larches are the first deciduous trees to sprout leaves in spring.

Larches are native to the cool, temperate climates of the northern hemisphere. Larches are found in states like Washington, Oregon, Montana, Minnesota, and West Virginia. North American larches also grow in the USAsubalpine forestsfrom Canada and Alaska.

The two most popular larch species are the American larch (larch) – also called Tamarack – and the western larch (western larch). These tall conical conifers grow to between 10 and 21 m in height.

This article is a comprehensive guide to identifying the most popular larch species growing in temperate and subarctic forests in North America, Europe, and Asia. Descriptions of deciduous conifers and photos of larch bark, leaves, cones, and flowers help distinguish themlarchSpecies.

Fatos do Larch

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Larches are tall, deciduous conifers that are hardy.

Larch is somehowDeciduous tree, coniferin sexlarchpine familypine family. There are between ten and twelve species of larch. Like most conifers, the large trees have a conical and pyramidal habit. Larches also tolerate freezing temperatures and grow in zones 2 through 5.

Larches differ from most conifers in that larches are deciduous trees that shed their leaves in the fall. When the larch leaves change color in autumn, their greenish-yellow to golden-yellow colors contrastperennial for trees,hemlock,cedars, and juniper.

States that grow larches, like Washington, are popular destinations for hikers in the fall. The beauty of the yellow larches in autumn and theevergreen coniferscreate a breathtaking mountain landscape.

IfPine trees, larches have needle leaves and cones with seeds. Unlike pines, larches shed their leaves in winter and are bare in appearance. The small colored larch cones give the impression that the larch has blossoms.

Larches are generally fast-growing, deciduous conifers that live for hundreds of years.

Larch vs Tamarack

The most widespread larch in North America is the Tamarack. Tamarack is another name for the eastern or American larch (larch). Other names for this common larch include hackmatack, black larch, and red larch. Tamaracks are common in the northern US states.

Tamarack is a small to medium-sized tree that grows up to 18 m tall. Tamaracks grow widely in Newfoundland, Minnesota, West Virginia, Montana and Wisconsin. The small flower-shaped cones of the tamarake are the smallest larch species. Cones start out bright red before turning brown.

larch leaves

Larches: Types, Leaves, Cones - Identification Guide (Photos) (2)

Larch leaves are needle-shaped and turn yellow in autumn before shedding their leaves.

Larch leaves are the soft, flat, needle-like leaves characteristic of many pines. The thin, spiky green larch leaves grow in clusters from woody cuttings and are up to 5 cm long. Between 15 and 30 needle-shaped leaves grow on each cone. Some other larch species, like the subalpine larch, have up to 40 needles on a wooden stake.

The distinguishing feature of larches is the beautiful yellow coloring of the needle leaves in autumn. Larches are one of the few conifer species that shed their leaves in autumn. In autumn landscapes, coniferous and deciduous forests turn into patches of warm yellow-bronze color as larches change their autumn colors.

Larch Blumen

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A close-up of larch flowers (larch seed cones): female flowers in left image and male flowers in right image

Larch trees do not have flowers but small male and female immature seed cones called strobili composed of scaly bracts growing on the same tree.

The colorful female larch flowers (or cones) can be orange-yellow, purple, bright red, or green before maturing into brown cones. Larch flowers can be between 1 and 9 cm long. However, the size of the flower and the color depend on the species of larch.

Male larch flowers (or small seed cones) are creamy white, smaller than female flowers, and globose or oblong. The female strobili are elongated and stand upright on the branches.

larch cone

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Adult larch cones - 2 female cones in center and small male cones on left


Like all true conifers, the larch is a cone-forming tree. Cylindrical larch cones are oval to ovoid and between 1 and 9 cm long. Northern larch species have the smallest cones and southern larches the longest cones. Some species of larch can be recognized by the green, whisker-like leaves that grow between the red-brown scales of the cone.

larch identification

Larch trees are easily recognized by their warm yellow tones in fall, when their flat, pine-like needles turn yellow before falling to the ground. Larches also have discernible pink or red-brown bark with shallow fissures. Larches in the forest can be recognized by their oval cones and their pyramidal shape.

Larches in winter

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Larches shed their leaves in winter

Larches are among the few conifers that have bare branches without leaves in winter. The absence of pine needles on larches is the easiest way to identify the species in winter. Fallen needle leaves form a fragrant mulch on the coniferous forest floor.

Because the lack of foliage allows more light to reach the ground, larches are one of the few conifers that have winter or spring flowers growing around the root base. It is not uncommon for a blanket of bluebells or other early spring flowers to cover the ground beneath larches in winter.

Additional reading:The best winter bloomers.

Larch species (with photos)

Let's take a closer look at the different types of larch. For each larch variety, you will find descriptions of the characteristics of each tree to make it easier to identify.

american larch (larch)

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American larch (Larix laricina) is also called Tamarack

The American Larch (larch) is a medium-sized deciduous conifer with a conical shape, scaly reddish-brown bark, soft, pinnate coniferous foliage, and small cylindrical cones. American larches, also known as Tamarack, grow to between 10 and 20 m in height. Tamaracks can be recognized by their bright yellow color in the fall.

American larches are native to Canada and the northeastern US states. American larches thrive in USDA zones 2 through 5. Deciduous conifers grow best in swampy soils or forests with poor drainage. The fast-growing larch is also an excellent tree specimen in a large landscape.

Called red larch because of the color of the bark, mature American larches have reddish-brown, scaly bark. However, unripe American larch is smooth and gray. The bark is thin and scaly when ripe.

Some species of American larch aretall thin treeswith a slender and pyramidal habit. In coniferous forests, the slender larch can be recognized by its branchless trunk and crown, which begins to grow in the middle of the tree.

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American larch leaves

American Larch Leaves (Needles)They are light blue-green in color in spring and summer. Each needle-shaped leaf grows about an inch long. Like all larches, Tamarack leaves grow in dense clusters on long, woody shoots with up to 30 needles in a cluster. Larch leaves are arranged in a spiral on the branches.

American Larício spigotare some of the smallest of all conifers in thelarchGender. Conical cones are between 1 and 2 cm (0.4 in and 0.8 in) long. Because cones appear on larch, they are bright red. They gradually turn brown over the course of the season as they mature. Mature larch seed cones release seeds about six months after pollination.

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American larch flowers (left) and cones (right)

American Larício flowersare another name for immature colored cones. The cones are called flowers because they look like pinkish-red tufts that stand upright on the branches. When they appear, the "flowers" are soft. But they harden and turn brown as they mature.

western larch (western larch)

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western larch

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The western larch (western larch) is a tall conifer with a slender, conical crown, scaly brown bark, and tufts of light green needle leaves growing from woody pines. This large coniferous tree grows between 30 and 60 m in height. Western larch can be recognized by its narrow cone crown and bright yellow fall color.

Western larch thrives in USDA zones 4 and higher. Its native range is in northwestern states such as Washington, Oregon, and Montana, and in the Canadian forests. Unlike eastern larch, western larch only grows in well-drained soils. The tree tolerates temperatures down to -58°F (-50°C).

Western larches are distinctive conifers with remarkable growth traits. Its stature is tall and slender. Its branches have clusters of pine-like needles and cones with prominent whiskers that protrude above gray or brown scales and scaly bark.

The western larch is one of two species of larch native to Washington state. The other is alpine larch (Larix lyallii).

Western larches are sometimes referred to as hackmatack or western tamarack. Its wood is used for frames, structures, finishes and firewood. Western larches are important trees for the pulp industry in many countries.

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western larch leaves

western larch leavesthey are soft, long, slender needle leaves that grow in small clusters arranged in a spiral pattern on the branches. In autumn, the light green foliage of the larch turns golden yellow before leaf fall, leaving bare orange-brown buds over the winter.

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Immature western larch cones (left) and mature cones (right)

western larch conesThey look like hemlock cones. The reddish cones have whisker-like growths at the ends of the scaly bracts. The cones appear as reddish-purple strobili similar to larch flowers before turning brown and releasing seeds about six months after pollination.

European larch (deciduous larch)

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European larch (Larix decidua)

The European larch (deciduous larch) is a deciduous conifer that grows between 25 and 45 m tall. You can recognize European Larch by its cone-shaped crown and pyramid shape, red cones that turn green and then brown, and light green, needle-like leaves. In autumn, European larches turn a brilliant yellow, beautifying an evergreen forest landscape.

European larches are native to the mountainous regions of Central Europe. Hardy conifers thrive in USDA zones 2 through 9 and can withstand temperatures as low as -58°F (-50°C). For best growth, European Larch should be planted in well-drained soil and full sun.

In North America, European larches are found in the Appalachian Mountains, Michigan, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. European larches tolerate warmer climates better than Tamaracks. The European larch is also a popular ornamental tree.

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European larch leaves and male cones

Leaves of the European larchgrow between 0.8" and 1.5" (2 – 4 cm) in length. Typical of larch leaves, the needle-shaped leaves grow in small, spirally arranged clusters on the branches. The green leaves arise from small pines. They turn blue-green in summer and golden yellow in autumn.

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American larch flowers (left) and mature cones (right)

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European larch conesappear as ovoid racemes in the form of a reddish flower. As the season progresses, the brightly colored bracts turn brown before shedding seeds in winter. Cones can survive on larch for up to ten years and grow alongside newly formed colorful cones.

Cry Lärche (deciduous larch'Pendulum')

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Weeping Larch (Larix decidua 'Pendula') and immature cones

The weeping larch (deciduous larch'Pendula') is a small, fast-growing ornamental tree with drooping branches, pine-like needle leaves and narrow oval cones. The needle's soft, glossy green leaves densely cover the drooping branches. Dwarf larch grows up to 3.5 m tall and 2.4 m tall. The weeping larch can be recognized by its irregular crown and branches falling to the ground.

The weeping larch is oneIdeal dwarf tree for planting if you have a small or compact garden. In spring and summer, dense, feathery foliage covers the drooping larch branches. In autumn the larch turns a spectacular yellow before the soft needles fall to the ground.

You can plant a hanging larch in full sun and slightly acidic soil that drains well. The larch cultivar thrives in USDA zones 2 through 7. This impressive ornamental tree, with its gracefully cascading branches, is ideal as a lawn tree, specimen tree, or growing in a large pot.

Bedwarf nadelbaum cryingbecomes easy with the Japanese weeping larch (larch fighteri'Pendulum').

japanese larch (larch fighteri)

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Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi)

The Japanese Larch (larch fighteri) is a vigorous coniferous tree with a conical shape, reddish-brown bark, blue-green tufts of needle leaves, and tiny purple cones. The deciduous larch grows between 20 and 40 m high. Larch can be recognized by its open, irregular branching, which spreads horizontally as the tree ages.

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Japanese Larch female flower (left) and cones (right)

Characteristics of the Japanese larch are small, flower-like, upright cone-shaped strobili that fade to purple. Larch flowers develop into orange-brown cones before turning dark brown. The color of the tree's foliage ranges from gray to green in summer before turning a spectacular bright yellow in fall.

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Japanese larch leaves

Due to its large size, Japanese larch is suitable for large landscapes. The tree thrives in USDA zones 4 through 7 when planted in well-drained soil. However, larch is also adaptable to moist soil and can grow near streams or ponds.

There are several varieties of Japanese larch for every taste. There is the miniature larch, which is the Japanese larch bonsai.

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japanese bonsai larch

Also,Dwarf conifersgrowing between 3 and 4 feet (1 to 1.5 m), such as 'Blue Dwarf' and 'Nana', are ideal for larches in pots or for growing in compact gardens.

Weeping Japanese Larch (larch fighteri'Pendulum')

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Japanese weeping larch (Larix kaempferi 'Pendula')

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Japanese weeping larch is a beautiful variety with drooping branches drooping with soft, feathery light green foliage. The dwarf conifer can be raised as a hillside shrub, a small arching tree, or a hanging conifer. Its long posterior branches form evenlyGround cover for full sun.

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Japanese larch mourning leaves and cones

Japanese weeping larch 'Pendula' thrives in USDA zones 4 through 7. The small, sturdy, fast-growing tree grows to between 15 and 30 feet (4 to 9 m) tall and up to 20 feet (6 m) wide.

Siberian larch (Siberian larch)

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Siberian larch

The Siberian larch (Siberian larch) is a large coniferous tree that loses its leaves in autumn. The imposing landscape tree can be recognized by its horizontal branching, conical crown and drooping side branches. Siberian larches grow to a height of between 20 and 50 m. The hardy tree thrives in USDA zones 2 through 8.

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Siberian larch leaves

Siberian larches have light green, needle-like pine leaves that grow in clusters of up to 40 leaves. The cones are barrel-shaped and elongated, 2 to 5 cm long. Immature larch cones or flowers are pinkish red, gradually turning into brown hard seed cones.

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Female Siberian Larch (Strobilus) flower

Other larch species

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Alpine larch (Larix lyallii) on the left and Dahurian larch (Larix gmelinii) on the right

In addition to the main larch species, there are a few other varieties that are native to North America, Europe and Asia. Here are some other larch species:

laricio alpines (Larix lyallii)— The hardy North American larch is a slender columnar tree that grows to 25 m tall in subalpine forests. The branches have 2 inch long needle-like leaves, red barrel-shaped cones with green whiskers, and scaly gray bark.

Dahurian larch (Larch gmelinii)—This medium-sized European conifer grows between 10 and 30 m tall. Hardy larch has small ovoid green cones and short needle-like leaves that grow in tufts.

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