Tamarack

TamarackTamarack — Tamarack Larch, or Tamarack or American Larch (Larix laricina) is a species of larch native to northern North America, mainly in Canada, from eastern Yukon and Inuvik, Northwest Territories east to Newfoundland, and also south into the northeastern United States from Minnesota to West Virginia; there is also a disjunct population in central Alaska. The name Tamarack is the Algonquian Native American name for the species.

It is a small to medium-size deciduous coniferous tree reaching 10-20 m tall, with a trunk up to 60 cm diameter. The bark is tight and flaky, brown, but under flaking bark it can appear reddish. The leaves are needle-like, 2-3 cm long, light blue-green, turning bright yellow before they fall in the autumn, leaving the pale pinkish-brown shoots bare until the next spring. The needles are produced spirally on long shoots and in dense clusters on short woody spur shoots. The cones are the smallest of any larch, only 1-2.3 cm long, with 12-25 seed scales; they are bright red, turning brown and opening to release the seeds when mature, 4-6 months after pollination.

It is very cold tolerant, able to survive winter temperatures down to at least -65°C, and commonly occurs at the arctic tree line at the edge of the tundra. Trees in these severe climatic conditions are smaller than further south, often only 5 m tall. Tamarack is commonly found in swamps, though also occasionally grows on drier sandy soils. While extremely tolerant of different soil types, the Tamarack is very sensitive to shading, and so it often gets pushed to more marginal soil types by more vigorous species.

The wood is tough and durable, but also flexible in thin strips, and was used by the Algonquian people for making snowshoes and other products where toughness was required.

It is also grown as an ornamental tree in gardens in cold regions, and is a favorite tree for bonsai. Tamarack Trees were used before 1917 in Alberta to mark the North East Corner of Sections surveyed within Townships. They were used by the surveyors because at that time the very rot resistant wood was readily available in the bush and was light to carry.

According to ‘Aboriginal Plant Use in Canada’s Northwest Boreal Forest’, the inner bark has also been used as a poultice to treat cuts, infected wounds, frostbite, boils and hemorrhoids. The outer bark and roots are also said to have been used with another plant as a treatment for arthritis, cold and general aches and pains.

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