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The Larch

The Larch

The Larch

The Parent Larch
The Kelburn Weeping Larch
The Kailzie Larch

European Larch Cones and Needles Larches (genus Larix, and members of the Pine family, Pinaceae) comprise abiout a dozen species of tall deciduous conifers native to much of the cooler temperate part of the northern hemisphere, on lowlands in the far north, and high on mountains further south. They are among the dominant plants in the huge Canadian and Russian boreal forests. They are deciduous trees but the needles turn yellow and fall in the late autumn, leaving the trees leafless in winter. Larches require a cool climate but the young shoots are frost-sensitive.

Larch cones are erect, small and green or purple, ripening brown 5-8 months after pollination; the more southerly species tend to have longer cones with the longest produced by the southernmost species in the Himalaya.

Uses of the Larch

Larch wood is tough, waterproof rot-resistant and durable and top quality knot-free timber is greatly demand for building yachts and other small boats, for exterior cladding of buildings and interior panelling and for use as posts and in fencing. In central Europe larch is viewed as one of the best wood materials for building drwellings. Larches are often trained as bonsai, where the small needles, autumn colour and knobby bark are appeciated.

Widely grown as a timber crop in northern Europe, the hybrid Dunkeld Larch is valued for its rapid growth and disease resistance. In Siberia young larch leaves are harvested in spring, preserved by lactobacillus fermentation, and used for salads during winter.

Larch wood, along with pine, fir and cypress, was much used in Roman shipbuilding after it was "discovered" by Julius Caesar (c. 100 BC to 44 BC) when he laid seige to an alpine fort constructed from it. He tried to burn the fort down with burning brushwood and was somewhat gobsmacked to find that the brushwood had no effect. Larch was used, a generation later, in the construction of the palace of the emperor Augustus.

Larch is resin-rich and the resin remains liquid when heated. This makes it suitable for the production of pitch and Venetian turpentine, which was extensively used to waterproof boats, ships and roofs.

The Larch in Natural Healing

Larch has also been used in herbal medicine. A decoction of the bark soothes eczema and psoriasis. Both Europeans and native North Americans have used infusions of the needles or bark to treat urinary tract infections as well as respiratory problems including colds, coughs and bronchitis.

According to Tree Yoga (see references below), the Larch is attuned to the spiritual properties of inspiration, the voice of the heart, and protection. The Bach flower remedy helps to overcome obstacles and enhances self-confidence. The tree essence balances heart and mind, will and desire.

The Larch in Mythology and Folklore

Planted on borders with birch, both tree species were used in pagan "sagged" cremations. One "sag" (pronounced song) of wood was required for a cremation stack. Sag is used today as a Polish forestry unit measuring approximately 3 1 1 m.

In Alpine legend the Saelingen (the "blessed ones"), graceful otherworldly beings who are kind to people and protective of animals make the Larch ther home. In Siberian legend, God made a male tree (the fir) and a female tree (the larch). The larch is one of only a few trees which grow in the tundra, and a group of seven or more are considered to be a sacred grove.

The Parent Larch

This is one of the largest European Larches (Larix Decidua) in the UK. It was planted in 1738 which makes it very old by larch standards. a "Mr. Menzies of Megany in Glenlyon" gave it to Duke James of Atholl, who planted it along with five others which are no longer alive.

Follow a footpath which skirts the cathedral from the North (main) car park in Dunkeld. The tree is sited where the path meets the woodland beside the grounds of the Hilton Dunkeld House Hotel, 15 miles North of Perth. There is free public access.

The Kelburn Weeping Larch

Kelburn Castle on the A78 overlooks the Firth of Clyde and is about 1 mile south of Largs in North Ayrshire. The grounds of the castle are a country park open to the public most of the year. The tree, said to have been planted about 1800, is next to the walled garden or "Plaisance".

This strange, mutant version of the European Larch bears no relation to the usual form of these trees but instead has a mass of twisted branches, many of which reach the ground and have layered to produce new trees. Some of these have also layered so that the whole covers nearly half an acre.

The Kailzie Larch

Situated about three miles South East of Peebles off the B7062, Kalzie Garden is open to the public throughout the year seven days a week ond is home to an outstanding example of one of the oldest surviving larches in the UK, said to have been introduced by Sir James Naesmyth (1644 to 1754). Thge straight trunk is nearly 16 feet in girth and supports a crown of huge limbs which curve upwards, typical of many old larches.

Acknowledgements and further reading:

Tree Yoga - a WorkbookSatya Singh and Fred HagenederEarthdancer
The Heritage Trees of Britain and Northern IrelandJon Stokes and Donald RodgerConstable
The Oxford Companion to English LiteratureSir Paul HarveyOUP
The Observer's Book of TreesFrederick Warne & Co. Ltd.
The Green Man Tree OracleJohn Matthews & Will WorthingtonBarnes & Noble

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Ken James 2008