The autumn landscape of the Larch

Did you know that some trees are considered both evergreen and deciduous?  This came as surprising news to me when I was studying horticulture.  In fact, I believe it was a question on a weekly quiz and I thought it was one of those ‘trick’ questions.

Those trees that you see turning blazing gold in our autumn chill are one of a few evergreens whose needles shift colour with the changing seasons and then suddenly drop to the ground. 

I have heard stories of people purchasing this tree from a nursery and when the needles turned gold and fell to the ground, they believed it to be dead, so dug it up and returned it.  The nursery, of course, told them to take it back and replant it before it was really dead!

These are larch trees, known botanically as Larix, and those found in our climate are either the Tamarack larch (Larix laricina) or the imported European larch (Larix decidua).  They are in the same family as pine trees (Pinaceae) and exhibit the same whorled needle arrangement.  But of course pines are fully evergreen, keeping their green needles all year round.

They remind me of the clusters of flowers on witchhazel trees (Hamamalis), which by contrast, are languourous and flimsy and slowly  shrivel but do not fall.

The larch is one of three trees that are deciduous conifers; the others are dawn redwood (Metasequoia) and baldcypress (Taxodium distichum).   They share the characteristic of being regenerative; that is, if you chop any of these trees down to the ground, they will sprout new leaders!

I love the yellows evident in the fields with grasses putting on their final show for the year and the exclamation points that are the seedheads of the yellow daisies of the false sunflower (Heliopsis).

Not just yellows but soft pinks, and browns and greens and dusty silver.  There is such subtlety in these late fall moments.

And when the cold wind begins to arrive from the north, the rustling and papery remnants of summer so evident in these grasses is made that much more bittersweet by the stark black timelessness of these tree silhouettes.

Soon the larches will be bare as well.

 

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