7 Facts About The Western Larch – A Deciduous Conifer

western larch

Photo via Flickr.

The Western Larch is the only conifer tree that loses its needles in the fall.  Here are some more fun facts about this Rocky Mountain tree.

The Rocky Mountains are full of many different trees.  Some of them, like the Aspens, are deciduous and lose their leaves in the fall.  Then many others are conifers, most of which keep their leaves or needles all year long.  Somehow, the Western Larch both a conifer and deciduous.  Maybe you’ve seen it in the fall when its needles were all yellow or you saw it in the winter with its bare branches.

western larch

Cone photo via Flickr.

7 Facts About The Western Larch

This is a tall, thin tree that can grow up to about 150 feet tall.  This species of Larch is the tallest of the 10 species that grow throughout the world (3 species grow in North America).

western larch

The western larch needles turn yellow in the fall and then fall off!

This is a conifer, which means that it reproduces using cones as opposed to flowers.  However, unlike most conifers which are evergreen, this tree is deciduous.  A deciduous tree loses its leaves in the fall.  The Western Larch’s needles turn yellow in the fall and then fall off.  This unique tree is an oxymoron because it is a deciduous conifer.  Remember the terms evergreen and conifer are not the same thing.

This tree (also called Tamarack) is a member of the pine family.  It is present in northern Idaho, north-eastern Oregon, Washington, north-western Montana, and on up into British Columbia.  It lives in the mid-elevations.

The needles are soft, yellowish/green, and grow in clumps of 15-30 needles.

western larch

The bark looks similar to that of Ponderosa Pine. Photo via Flickr.

The bark is red-brown, scaly, and furrowed.  The bark is also very thick, which helps the tree to survive fires.  Another feature that helps this tree survive fires is that the lowest branches are often very high off the ground.

Many of these trees live for a very long time.  It’s ability to withstand first helps this tree live long, up to 700 – 900 years!

Native peoples used to collect the sap and sweet inner bark from this Larch tree because it contained a natural sugar gelatin.  They would even chew lumps of pitch the same as gum.  Pitch is like a more solid form of the sap.