Larch Hall Namesake: The Larch Tree

Larch Hall

The Larch Tree

The Larch is classified in the same family as pine trees, even though it sheds it’s needles in the fall and is obviously not an evergreen.

In the fall, its needles turn a striking yellow color before they fall, leaving a very twiggy tree silhouette; usually a straight trunk with upward pointing branches at the top and horizontal branches lower. Small cones are attached along the top side of branches making the Larch the only tree with cones but no needles.

In spring, its new needles transform it from winter ugly to spring beauty. The tufts of light green, inch-long needles create a soft, lacy look for the summer.

The tree’s regular pyramidal shape and light green color are attractive attributes – it grows to 40-80 feet and its slender trunk grows to about one to two feet in diameter, with scaly, reddish-brown bark. According to the national list maintained by American Forests, the largest larch tree in the nation is in Wells, Maine: 92 feet tall, a trunk circumference of 143 inches, and an average crown spread of 31 feet.

The Larch tree can can survive bitter cold and grow further north than any other tree. Its range extends to the Arctic Circle where temperatures can dip to minus 65! On the southern edge of its natural range, the larch grows in floating bogs. Says William Cullina of the New England Wildflower Society in his book Native Trees Shrubs and Vines, “It is a strange thing to walk out gingerly on a floating mat of sphagnum moss and see larch trees swaying back and forth on the rippling waves created by your footsteps in the water hidden below.”

Larch wood is tough and rot resistant, and the tree had a variety of historical uses. The root strings, tough and fibrous, were used by Indians to sew birch bark canoes. The Algonquain used the wood for snowshoes and the bark for medicine. The colonists used larch for ship building. Today, the rather coarse-grained, hard, heavy and strong wood is used for planking, timbers, railroad ties, fence posts, telephone poles, shipbuilding and turpentine (from its European cousin).

Although not used much in landscaping because of its seasonal needle loss and forlorn winter appearance, UNH Extension Educator, Forest Resources, Jonathan Nute notes that in the Civil War era and earlier, “it was common to have one in a town cemetery to symbolize ‘death’ in the winter and ‘rebirth"’ in the spring.”