Photo by Mark Kane
Most of us call a pine or a fir an “evergreen.” They are evergreen, meaning green year-round. They’re also “conifers,” meaning they bear cones. So the larch is unusual, not because of its appearance in a Monty Python episode, but because it is one of the very few trees that are conifers and not evergreen. Every year the needles of the larch die and drop, like the leaves of deciduous trees. The needles of one species, the widely grown European larch (Larix decidua), often turn a handsome yellow before they fall. Then for two or three weeks the tree is the brightest sight in the landscape.
This is a tree from the mountains of Europe, happiest in the northern regions of the temperate zone and hardy to Zone 3. It struggles in hot, humid regions. There’s another species from western North American (L. occidentalis) that is hardy in Zone 4 and a Siberian species (L. sibirica) that’s hardy in Zone 1, where gardeners are not hardy. There’s a species from Japan used in bonsai and another from eastern North America.
If the European larch is too big a tree for your yard (it can make a pyramid 100 feet tall), seek smaller selections such as ‘Pendula,’ which has forgotten how to stand up on its own. I saw one in Connecticut. The gardener trained the limp trunk sideways on a wire and let all the branches hang down like a waterfall. (This trick always works with lax plants sited at the edge of a retaining wall, where the branches can find the edge and hang down.) There’s a selection of Japanese Larch called ‘Diane' that has contorted limbs and needles. With pruning, it can be kept small.
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