Larch trees, also known as tamaracks, are a favorite species among many people because they are both beautiful and unique. These trees are both deciduous and coniferous! Tamaracks have green needles like pine or spruce, but unlike other evergreens trees, these needles don’t stay on year round. In the autumn, the Larch trees turn a beautiful shade of yellow and drop their needles, just like a broad–leaf tree. Larch trees belong to the family Pinaceae but are the only type of trees in this family in Alberta that drop their needles.
Larch trees are monoecious. This means that the tamarack has both male and female parts on the same tree. The male flowers are yellow-green and the female flowers are red. Pollen is created in the male cones and usually transported by wind to the female cone where embryo development will take place. In the cone, seeds will be created which will eventually fall to the ground and with luck, will grow into new little Larch trees.
There are two species of Larch that grow in Alberta, Tamarack Larch (Larix laricina) and Alpine Larch (Larix lyallii). Alpine Larch is a small and slow growing tree growing from 9-12 metres high. This species is found in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta. Tamarack larch grows on moist and well-drained soils, usually in muskeg or boggy areas in stands mixed with black spruce. You can tell these species apart by where they are found as well as the number of needles found in each cluster. Tamarack Larch has 12-20 needles in each cluster, whereas Alpine Larch has clusters of 30-40.
In the past, Tamarack had many medicinal as well as functional uses. The bark was used to make a tea that was prescribed as a cure for sore throats. As well, the sap of the tree was sometimes chewed to relieve indigestion. The name Tamarack comes from an Algonquin word akemantak which means ‘wood used for snowshoes’.