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The genus Larix, to which the larch of our Alpine valleys belongs, has about fifteen species of conifers, widespread in the northern hemisphere, both in Europe and Asia, and in North America; these conifers are medium in size and have a good spread in Italy, in the wild; in most of northern Europe the larches are cultivated, due to the speed of development and the excellent quality of their wood; in many of the large coniferous forests spread in the cold areas of the globe the larches are present in large numbers, often in majority compared to other conifers. They are very elegant trees, with long needles, gathered in small bunches, light green; the larches are deciduous plants, and in autumn all their needles become of a fabulous orange color, painting the alpine valleys, to then fall, leaving the bare trees throughout the winter. The larches produce male and female flowers on the same plant, the female flowers are particularly noticeable because in most species they have large bracts, which in the larix decidua (the one present in Italy) are often pink or bright pink. After pollination the female flowers give rise to small pine cones, which can remain on the plant for some years. Generally the species available in the nursery are hybrids of several species, often crossed with the larch Japanese, this because only some species of larch they are resistant to larch cancer, a fairly widespread and serious disease, which leads large trees to early death. They are trees that can reach 20-30 m in height, so if we love the larches it is good to equip our house with a large land in which to plant them, they cannot find a place in a small garden; moreover they are trees with decidedly alpine needs, so in our city garden we will probably only be able to cultivate a small bonsai larch.
It is one of the most appreciated ancient trees, due to its shape and its uses. It is found in the high mountains, together with fir, birch and chestnut. Particularly appreciated for its timber, it also helps to strengthen the soil. We are talking about larch, a tree of considerable size and, unlike others, with deciduous leaves. For this characteristic, the tree is also called "deciduous" or "deciduous larch". A species is called "decidua" when it loses its leaves in autumn.
common name Larch, botanical name Larix decidua
|Type of plant and growth habit||Deciduous or deciduous tree plant|
|Exposure||Illuminated and in direct sunlight|
|Ground||Slightly acidic, loose, fertile and well drained|
|Morphology||Tall trunk from thirty to forty meters, pyramidal crown and little thick horizontal branches|
|leaves||Green needle-like leaves tending to red and yellow after the vegetative period|
|Flowers||Oval and elongated female inflorescences of red color and small male inflorescences of yellow color|
|Flowering||In spring, between March and May|
Characteristics of the Larch
The larch, scientific name larix or "larix decidua" is a tree belonging to the genus of conifers and to the family of pinaceae. For some characteristics, the same tree is similar to birch (habitat) and chestnut (trunk wood). In reality, larch is a unique and unmistakable tree. Native to northern Europe, the larch populates the alpine and subalpine areas, but also vast grazing lands used for wooded areas. In the alpine areas, the tree gives life to the so-called larch trees, that is, to vast forests composed of trees of the same species, while further downstream, the larch leaves room for the appearance of the fir trees, becoming slightly more sparse. This different diffusion depends on the habitats in which the tree develops. In the alpine areas, where the larch receives greater solar irradiation, the development is faster, while downstream, due to the shadow, the growth becomes slower favoring the appearance of other types of trees.
Larch trees are large trees that grow in Italy in alpine areas, characterized by cool summers and very cold winters, with persistent frosts; they are plants adapted to live in extreme climatic conditions, which can hardly be grown in the lowland garden, not even in northern Italy, where summers are still excessively hot for these plants. In the mountains they develop in open and sunny places, with a clayey and compact soil. They develop a large taproot radical apparatus, which develops in depth, it is therefore good to cultivate them in areas with very deep and compact soils.
Larch trees that have recently settled down need good humidity, especially in summer, or they will hardly take root; given that their root system develops very deeply, it is good to water a young larch by wetting the soil thoroughly, so that the plant is invited to push its roots into the ground, rather than to widen its root system in width; a tree like the larch must have a very deep root system, or it cannot survive the cold alpine winters.
The adult specimens now dwelling for years are well resistant to cold and drought, and can remain without water for weeks.
In nature these plants grow in the undergrowth, with a high humidity for most of the time, and little direct insolation; if we decide to sow a larch, to prepare a bonsai, it will be good to keep the seedbed constantly moist, and in a shady position.
A larch in the garden
If we love the larches in a special way and we intend to cultivate one, our choice will go to a plant very similar to the larch, of Asian origin, the pseudolarix amabilis, it is a deciduous conifer, widespread in China and Japan, belonging to a genus very similar to that of larch; it has very slow growth, and hardly exceeds 20 meters in height if grown in the garden; this conifer does not fear the heat and the drought as the larch, represents therefore a good compromise for the garden in the lowland.
The general appearance is always that of a majestic tree, with soft and non-sharp needles, gathered in bunches, which become golden in autumn, before falling; only that the leaves of this tree seem arched and are slightly shorter than those of the European larch.
The larch in herbal medicine
The Larches of all species are cultivated to use wood, in particular in construction and to produce furniture or musical instruments.
In addition to this use the larch wood and needles contain oils used to produce paints.
The essential oils of larch and the active ingredients contained in them are also used in herbal medicine for their antiseptic power. With the larch, products are prepared for topical use and also for systemic use, against urinary and respiratory tract infections.
Larch is also included among the seven main Bach flowers, used for those who have little self-confidence.
Morphology of the Larch
The larch has a straight trunk and diffused horizontal branches. The tree can also reach the remarkable height of forty meters. Its leaves are needle-shaped, about four centimeters long and gathered in strips of forty needles. The latter, during the passage from spring to autumn, take on a reddish-yellow color that creates pleasant chromatic suggestions. The crown of the larch is not very thick and pyramidal. The tree is very long-lived and in suitable environments it can reach even a thousand years of life. The long duration of the tree depends on the climate, the more this is cold and bright, the more the species becomes long-lived. In other environments, instead, the larch can live less, with specimens that sometimes reach eighty, sometimes the one hundred and fifty, up to a maximum of four hundred years. The trunk of the larch is dark gray in the young specimens, then cracked and reddish in the older ones.
The larch flowers appear before the leaves, generally between March and May. The female inflorescences are oval, elongated and red in color, while the masculine inflorescences are small, short, yellow in color and aesthetically unimportant. From the mature flowers, in summer, small pine cones develop, the fruits of the larch, which will ripen during the autumn. These fruits, two to four centimeters large, contain small winged seeds.
Larch is known and appreciated above all for its wood. The latter is considered as one of the finest and best quality. Solid, resistant, compact and fragrant, larch wood was formerly used to build mountain huts. Due to its solidity, larch wood also has a useful environmental function, helping to strengthen soil solidity and avoid the risk of landslides. The larch wood has a reddish heartwood, a yellow albumen and clearly visible growth rings. The volumetric mass of the larch wood is 6.6 quintals per cubic meter. From a larch wood of one hectare, about 500 cubic meters of timber can be obtained. Due to its value and its usefulness, larch wood has been used to build houses, stables, barns and to create soil protection structures and avalanche barriers. Today, larch wood is used for the construction of windows, fixtures, coatings, furniture and poles. From this material is also obtained a resin used for its medicinal properties.
The quality of larch wood also depends on the variety of tree from which it is derived. In nature there are three main varieties of larch from which the wood is obtained: European larch, Siberian larch and dahurica larch. The European larch (European larix) extends discontinuously from the Alps to the Urals, the Siberian larch (larix sibirica) extends to the easternmost area, towards Siberia, precisely where the larch or larix dahurica is also present. The botanical characteristics of the different varieties of larch are practically identical, with some slight differences in the quality of the wood. The best, in this sense, seems to be the Siberian larch. This tree, living in particularly cold areas, develops a more resistant bark and with small and well-defined growth rings. The quality of larch wood can be recognized precisely by the size of the rings: the smaller they are, the higher the quality of the wood. The varieties of larch are very numerous, about fifteen. Some are native to Asia, others from North America.
Main varieties sheet
|European Larix||25-45 m||Central Europe - Alps||Big rings|
|Larix sibirica||20-50 m||East of Russia||Small rings|
|Larix dahurica||10-30 m||East Siberia, northeast China and Mongolia, North Korea||Small rings|