Flowers get most of the attention at this time of the year in northern temperate areas, but emerging foliage deserves some as well. The tactile experience of brushing one’s fingers along the needles of a branch of Larix laricina is another delight of spring.
Only twenty or so species of conifers are deciduous, with most of these belonging to Larix. Of these, most–but not all–are species of northern latitudes or high altitudes. Larix laricina, or tamarack, is among these, with a hardiness purportedly to at least -65°C (-85°F). At UBC, we grow this plant within our Carolinian Forest Garden. True, it does occur at the northern edge of what one would consider the Carolinian Forest in bogs and swamps, but I grew up with it in its more typical associated (and much colder) forest, the North American Boreal Forest.
The Flora of North America account for Larix laricina describes some of its economic uses:
The wood of tamarack is used for railway ties, pilings, and posts; it formerly was used for boat construction. Slow-growing trees develop wood with high resin content, making it decay resistant but limiting its value for pulpwood. The bark contains a tannin, which has been used for tanning leather. Although tamarack is the most rapidly growing boreal conifer under favorable conditions, it is of little commercial interest because of insect and disease problems and its poor pulping properties.
For local readers: the deadline is approaching fast for applications to the UBC Horticulture Training Program. If you or someone you know might be interested, an information session is available on May 2. One of the “benefits” of the program is you get to spend about five hours every week from September through December listening to me drone on about botany.