Larix griffithii is the fourth in a series featuring plants showcased in UBC Botanical Garden’s newly released book: The Jade Garden – New and Notable Plants from Asia.
The general public variously tolerates deciduous conifers. In cold climates they are grown because of lack of available variety in plants generally, and in temperate gardens often for their venerable lineage, such as the primitive and exotic pair Metasequoia glyptostroboides (dawn redwood) and Taxodium distichum (bald cypress). The benefit of a deciduous conifer in the landscape should not be overlooked, particularly in a dull climate. As for any deciduous tree, it provides more light on the garden floor in winter. By far, the most common deciduous conifers in the Northern Hemisphere are the larches, but since they are, with few exceptions, a scruffy lot, they are generally a much-maligned group. Larix griffithii is an exception.
Individual needles of Sikkim larch are long, and among individuals they range from green to steel grey. The tree’s habit is regular, narrow, and tall, with pendulous, golden brown branches somewhat reminiscent of Larix occidentalis (western larch), from the mountains of southern British Columbia and the northwestern United States. Like that species, the autumn colour of L. griffithii is pure, flaxen yellow. Sikkim larch cones are perhaps the largest of all Larix species (9 to 15cm long) and among its most interesting and ornamental features. They are purple-brown with reflexed scales and are held stiffly upright when ripe. The young, developing cones are extraordinarily large and are coloured either chartreuse or red-magenta. Both forms are exceedingly showy in the spring.
Sikkim larch is native to the high subalpine regions of the eastern Himalayas. Specimens at UBC Botanical Garden were grown from seed collected in Bhutan by Keith Rushforth. The closely related Larix griffithii var. speciosa (syn. L. speciosa) is found in northwestern Yunnan and the southeastern Xizang Zizhang (Tibetan Himalayas). That variety differs primarily in the broader needles and shorter cones.
Some other photographs of this plant have been posted to the garden’s discussion forums.