Tamarack (Larix laricina, Pinaceae) is an extremely cold-tolerant tree that’s native to much of northern North America. Although widespread throughout Canada it’s also found in parts of Alaska, New England, and the Great Lakes region. Since it requires full sun and consistently moist soil it’s typically encountered in open bogs and swamps.
Tamarack can be easily recognized by the dense, spiral clusters of needles that distinguish it from other conifers. This tree is also different from most conifers in that it is deciduous, not evergreen. Every autumn the needle-like leaves turn yellow and drop off.
This tree goes by a number of other common names including hackmatack, eastern larch, and American larch. It’s not easily cultivated and in nature it faces a wide variety of threats. Intolerant of heat, pollution, flooding, wind, fire, and shade, it’s eventually succeeded by other trees like spruces, cedars, firs, and swamp hardwoods. A number of insects and mites can be serious pests, especially the invasive larch sawfly (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae: Pristiphora erichsonii) and the larch casebearer (Lepidoptera: Coleophoridae: Coleophora laricella). In spite of the challenges this hardy conifer continues to make a living in hostile northern latitudes.