Larch: The Torch Glow of the Forest

by Amber Jensen

The Pacific and Inland Northwest boast all four distinct seasons and part of that is shown in our forest foliage. Of course we don’t have the vast deciduous woodlands that Eastern states have but we do have a forest flame, The Western Larch. Or, is it a Tamarack? 


If you’ve spent much time around folks in our area I’m sure you’ve heard both. I grew up in North-Central Idaho surrounded by forested lands and woodsman. My dad worked in the woods all his life. Guess what I grew up calling the tree that turns golden in fall? Tamarack.


Families moved to our area from many places. One of which was the midwest and eastern states where Tamarack (Larix laricina), or Eastern Larch grows. Tamarack is native to Canada and grows south into the upper northeastern United States. From Minnesota to West Virginia, the Tamarack shows its beautiful needle change for all who would marvel at it.


Larix laricina (Tamarack) is a small to medium boreal coniferous and deciduous tree. It grows to a maximum of 65 ft tall with a trunk diameter of up to 2ft. In comparison, Larix occidentalis (Western Larch) is capable of rowing up to 200 ft tall with a trunk over 5 ft in diameter. 700 year old Western Larch trees have found with an 8ft diameter and towering over 200 ft above the forest floor.


Western Larch can be found from southern British Columbia and southwestern Alberta down to eastern Washington and Oregon, northern Idaho, western Montana. 


With such similarities in appearance it’s quickly seen how both trees can fall under one name. In a quick search of the United States Forest Service website and tree species fact sheets it is also states the another commonly accepted name of the Western Larch is Western Tamarack.  


Both Tamarack and Western Larch are from the same genus and are both deciduous conifers, dropping their golden colored needles in fall. They are simply a different species with different growth abilities.


I believe the question isn’t actually what we need to call these magnificent trees but rather a question of wether you’ve been to the mountains in our area to witness the glorious color show that Larch puts on in the fall? 


Perhaps it’s not as important to be correct about the name of the tree but rather to experience and share the glory of the tree with others.


So, is it a Larch or a Tamarack? Perhaps it’s best to call it what we’ve always called it and enjoy its beauty together rather than fret about binomial nomenclature. 


Amber Jensen is an author, journalist and freelance copywriter specializing in pieces that highlight the human condition as connection and contribution. She hails from small-town Idaho and makes her chaotic home on a piece of dirt in Eastern Washington, with her adventure-seeking husband and four wild children. Learn more about Amber by visiting www.amberjjensen.com

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