957 Larix kaempferiCommon Names: Japanese larch Family: Pinaceae (pine Family)
Japanese larch is a large, deciduous, needle bearing conifer with reddish exfoliating bark and horizontal spreading branches. This is a cone shaped tree that can get more than 100 ft tall, with its lower branches spreading more than 40 ft across. Young shoots are reddish. The needles are a little more than an inch long and soft and pliable. They are gray- or blue-green, turning golden yellow in fall before they drop. The cones are about an inch long, egg-shaped at first, then opening at maturity to form handsome "rosebud" rosettes with reflexed woody scales.
Japanese larch differs from the European larch (L. decidua) in having larger and more widely spaced branches on a more massive trunk, resulting in a more open form, and in having reddish winter shoots. There are a couple dozen named cultivars including, 'Aureovariegata' with variegated yellow needles; 'Blue Rabbit' which is narrowly columnar with bluish foliage; 'Diana', with contorted and twisted branches; 'Nana', a dwarf, rounded shrub which was first found as a witch's broom; 'Pendula', a slow growing weeping form; and 'Prostrata', a ground creeping form. Larix x marschlinsii, Dunkeld larch, is a hybrid between Japanese larch and European larch. It is less susceptible to disease than either parent and is grown commercially in Europe for its valuable lumber.
Japanese larch, Larix kaempferi, grows naturally on volcanic mountain slopes on the island of Hondo, Japan. Other species of larch occur in North America and Europe.
CultureThe larches prefer a moist soil on the acidic side. Under good conditions with ample soil moisture, the fast growing Japanese larch should be 20 ft tall in 15 years, 50 ft tall in 40 years, and 90 ft tall at maturity in 80 years. Light: Japanese larch needs full sun. Moisture: Japanese larch likes a well drained soil with plenty of water but suffers in waterlogged soils. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 7. Propagation: Seeds germinate readily without pretreatment. The cultivars (weeping, ground-creeping, dwarf, bushy, etc.) are propagated by grafting onto seedlings of the species. Cuttings are difficult to root.
The Japanese larch is a most handsome tree, tall and symmetrically cone shaped, with brilliant glowing yellow foliage in fall. In late winter, the reddish shoots are especially attractive. Not for small spaces, this beauty is best suited for campuses, parks and estate lawns. The dwarf and bushy cultivars are useful in mixed hedges or as specimens. Smaller cultivars of Japanese larch are often cultivated for bonsai.
So many of the needle bearing conifers are evergreen that we tend to forget about the deciduous larches, a genus with about a dozen species from mountainous regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The Japanese larch is considered the finest of all the larches in cultivation. See Floridata's black pine (Pinus thunbergii)profile for a breakdown of the cone bearing trees and other members of the pine family.
Steve Christman 8/15/02