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The European Larch and the Bald Cypress . A Study of Trees-4

Updated on August 2, 2015

The European larch .

Taken at Aletschwald Swizterland.
Taken at Aletschwald Swizterland. | Source


In this series of articles {Study of Trees} it is the intention of helping anyone who is not familiar with identifying trees to pick up a few clues that will further their knowledge and make identifying trees a little easier.

Many people begin to identify trees by the form and colour of the leaves,which is fine during the summer months,but of little use during the winter months when many leaves have fallen from their arboreal mothers to leave the branches naked. Yet every tree has a characteristic{s} that will help to identify the species even in the depths of winter.

In this the fourth in the series we are reviewing coniferous trees. Normally, this would be a good place to start, for anyone who identifies the trees by their leaves, as most coniferous trees keep their leaves throughout the year. However, in the case of these two groups of trees the leaves {needles} are shed during the autumn like those of deciduous trees. Hence at that time of the year we need to look at other characteristics in order to identify them.

Larch and the Bald Cypress

In summer these two gruops can be tols apart by their leaves. They are needle -shaped and arranged in clusters with numerous leaves to each cluster. In the case of the Larch they are feathery,- and flat in the case of the Cypress.

In winter when the needles have been shed they can be differentiated by the cones which adhere to the branches. There are nine recognized species of Larch and two of the Bald Cypress. The Larch characteristically is a northern tree, growing in the northern and mountainous regions of the northern hemisphere,from the Arctic Circle to Pennsylvania in the 'New world' and in Central Europe, Asia and Japan in the 'Old world'. They can form large forests in the Alps of Switzerland and France.

It is the European larch not the American larch which is the principle species featured here, because it has been extensively planted in North America.

Components of the Larch

Dr Thome's Flora
Dr Thome's Flora | Source

Bark of the European larch


The European Larch Larix decidua{ Formerly Larix europaea

The European larch {Header photograph above } is a medium to large deciduous coniferous { Cone bearing tree } reaching a height of between 25-45 feet tall. The crown is conical when young becoming broader with age and they posses a straight tapering trunk.

The root system resembles that of the Scottish Pine,but if difficulties confront the development of a strong tap root it possesses the ability to throw out side shoots so as to form a heart-shaped system like that of the Silver fir. On shallow or rocky soil it develops many and far reaching surface roots like the Spruce,which utilize every opportunity afforded by cleavage and fissure to penetrate deeper down. Under such growing circumstances the larch makes greater demands on growing space than when the soil is deep.

The larch is the most light demanding of any coniferous trees, indeed of all forest trees with the possible exception of the Birch. Any one planting a larch must bear this fact in mind if the tree is to thrive.

When branches are removed,either accidentally or intentionally,close to the stem, the larch possesses the power, rare in coniferous trees, of being capable to throw out shoots, but its reproductive power has no sylviculture value.

In the Alps { its natural home} its deep root system and its leafless winter boughs and the elasticity of its branches helps to secure comparative immunity from the violence of strong winds. However, on the lower hills, and in valleys where it might have been planted, its power of resistance is weakened and as a consequence may be damaged by high winds.

The young leaves of Larix decidua


Young female cones


Branches, shoots and cones

The main branches are level or upswept with side branches that are often pendulous. The needle like foliage is of a light green colour and about one inch long but may be longer in some instances but two and a half inches is the maximum length. They are borne in clusters,close to the twig. There are many leaves to each cluster. This characteristic along with the spire like form of the crown will distinguish this tree at a glance. This light green colour becomes darker as the year advances,and in autumn turn yellow and drop off.

The cones are small about an inch or so long and adhere to the tree throughout the year. They are ovoid-conical with erect or slightly in-curved seed . They are green and generally flushed with red when immature turning brown when the seeds are rip,opening to release them. This usually between four and six months after pollination. The old cones invariably remain on the tree for many years turning a dull grey-black colour.

It is one of the trees among the the 'tree-line' in the Alps,though it is most abundant from about 1,000-2,0000 metres above sea level.

The European Larch was introduced into England early in the 17th century {1629} and into the Lowlands of Scotland in 1725 by Nasmyth of Posso,and into the Highlands by the Duke of Athole in 1727. The Larch has been extensively planted in Scotland { 27,million trees are said to have been planted out in the Highlands between 1738-and 1820}.

Mature cones

Originally posted top Flickr uploaded by Botaurus
Originally posted top Flickr uploaded by Botaurus | Source

Larch in autumn

Uploaded by Gerrit
Uploaded by Gerrit | Source

American larch

A Guide to Trees Alice Lounsberry c 1900
A Guide to Trees Alice Lounsberry c 1900

The American Larch Larix laricina

Before we review the Bald Cypress it is worth noting the American larch,commonly referred to as the Tamarack. This species,unlike its European cousin,thrives in swampy ground and bogs. It is native to Canada,and is also found in the north eastern United States from Minnesota to Cranesville Swamp Maryland,with a population in Alaska.

The word Tamarack is the Algoniquian name for the species and indicates 'wood used for snow shoes'. Longfellow's poem about the Tamarack and the Native Indian---

" Give me your roots, O Tamarack!

Of your fibrous roots,O Larch tree!

My Canoe to bind together,

So to bind the ends together.

That the water may not enter,

That the river may not wet me!

And the Larch with all its fibres,

Shivered in the air of the morning,

Touched his forehead with its tassels,

Said, with one long sigh of sorrow,

Take them all, O Hiawatha! "

In early spring its flowers peep out,much before the leaves, they grow in broad lateral buds,and although the sterile ones are yellow the fertile ones area brilliant crimson. The light brown wood of the tree is resinous and very durable.

Bald Cypress trees


Bark of the Bald Cypress


The Bald Cypress Taxodium distichum

Taxodium distichum is deciduous coniferous tree that grows in swampy and saturated ground in the south eastern and Gulf coastal plains of the USA.

It is a tall tree generally attaining the height of between 25-40 metres {100 feet+} occasionally taller but these are exceptional trees. They belong to the family Cupressaceae and the order Pinales. the generic name of Taxodium derives from the Latin taxus {Yew} + Greek eidos meaning similar to.

The distinguishing characteristics of this species are the feathery twigs and the spire like form and the form of the trunk,which is taller and more slender than that of the Larch. The bark {see photo} is of a reddish brown or grey brown and is shallowly fissured.

The leaves are borne on deciduous branchlets which are spirally arranged on the stem, but are twisted at the base to lie in two horizontal ranks one to two centimetres long. it is unlike most other species of Cuppressaceae,it is deciduous loosing its leaves in the winter months from which it takes its common name of 'bald cypress'

Its natural home is in the swamps where it sends out special roots above the water. They are referred to as 'knees' and many believe they serve to provide air to the submerged roots.However, their purpose is not fully understood. Indeed, in places the 'knees' have been removed without any detriment to the tree. It is thought that they are more likely to be utilized as stabilizers or a buttress against high or strong water current movements. These knees tend to surround the main trunk.


Transferred by SreeBot
Transferred by SreeBot | Source

Leaves of the Bald Cypress

Uploaded by Amada44
Uploaded by Amada44 | Source

Cones of the Bald Cypress

The seed cones are green when first produced about half an inch or so in diameter and globular which consist of 20-30 spirally arranged four sided scales each bearing one or two,occasionally three triangular seeds. the number of seeds per cone is between 18-38. These cones mature to a grey brown colour and disintergrate on maturity to release the seeds. The seeds are relatively large,indeed the largest of any of the Cypress family. They are produced annually with larger crops every three to five years.

New green cones of the Bald Cypress


The Oldest known tree and the Pond Cypress

There are claims that the oldest known specimen is located in Bladen County, North Carolina,reputed to be over 1,620 years old,making it one of the oldest living plants in eastern North America.

The Pond Cypress,Taxodium ascendens is sometimes treated as a distinct species while others class it as a mere variety of the Bald Cypress { variety imbricatum }. Flood waters despatch the cones or seeds which aids the spread of the species. The seeds can remain viable in the water for around two to three years. The seeds need to find a location of saturated soil/mud for the purpose of germination.

The main requirement for strong robust growth are hot summers. When planted in cooler regions the growth is much slower and cones are not produced.

Distribution map of the Bald Cypress {USA}



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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb, Thanks for that. good to see you here. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      The Baldcypress is also here in OK. A couple of them have fallen into Boomer Lake to create snags for many birds. They don't rot.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      hello My friend, thank you for your visit and for leaving your appreciated comments. Best wishes to you.

    • JYOTI KOTHARI profile image

      Jyoti Kothari 

      5 years ago from Jaipur

      I love trees and this article gives lot of info about. Depiction through several pictures is very nice. Rated up and useful.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      hello my friend, You are welcome, the Bald Cypress is indeed a unique tree. Best wishes to you.


      hi Devika, Thank you for your kind comments. Cypress trees are fantastic living structures and I can understand tourists wanting to see them in your country. Thank you to Devika for your vote up,interesting,useful and awesome,greatly appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      We have have many Cypress trees in our region the most south eastern part of Croatia. An indigenous plant and many tourist who come by admire this beautiful tree. I too like it very much. Great photos and the pines look amazing.

      Voted up, interesting, useful and awesome.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      5 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      How interesting, my five trees of Italian Cypress and so totally different. Thank you much.


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