European larch

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#1)  European larch

Postby KoutaR » Wed Oct 20, 2010 9:16 am

ENTS,

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about Norway spruce (Picea abies) and European larch (Larix decidua). I have written several times about Norway spruce in Europe, and it is now a good time to write about European larches in Europe.

Naturally, European larch is a tree of European mountains. It often forms with Swiss pine (Pinus cembra) the highest forest zone, above which there are usually thickets of shrub-like mugo pine (Pinus mugo). Here is a photo from the natural range of European larch. The location is Mercantour National Park in southeastern France, in the southwestern Alps, at an altitude of 1730 m (5680 ft) where the larch first appears in the forest composition. The light green crowns are larches, the dark green crowns are European silver firs (Abies alba) and Norway spruces.

               
                       
MercantourAbiesPiceaLarix.jpg
                       
Mercantour National Park, France
               
               


These forests have been clear-cutted about 100 years ago, then they have regrown naturally. Some stumps 5-6 ft in diameter are evidences that the forests have supported big trees in the past.

In Poland there are some natural low-altitude populations (subsp. polonica). European larch is also planted as a timber tree at low altitudes, besides Japanese larch (L. kaempferi).

In a favorable site, European larch is able to attain pretty good dimensions. I recently visited and measured two of the biggest and tallest European larches in Germany. Both are claimed to be 48 m (157 ft) tall. They grow outside of the natural range in managed forest but are protected, of course.

The first tree is located close to Nüßleshof, between Eisenach and Meiningen in Thüringen. It is said to be 250 years old. In the photo below, the other trees are European beech (Fagus sylvatica) and Norway spruce. The beech trunks are very dark because it was raining.

               
                       
NuessleshofLaerche-base.jpg
                       
46.8 meter European larch
               
               


I measured the tree height to be 46.8 m (154 ft) and CBH 469 cm (15.4 ft). However, the claimed 48 m is not necessarily a measuring error: the top is now strongly bent and the highest point is an upper branch. The tree could well have been 48 m in the recent past. In the photo below, the green arrow shows the top and the red arrow the highest point at the moment. The other trees in the photo are Wych elm (Ulmus glabra), left foreground, black alder (Alnus glutinosa), foreground right from the big larch, European beech and Norway spruce (background).

               
                       
NuessleshofLaerche.jpg
                       
46.8 meter European larch
               
               


This is the tallest reliably measured European larch we are aware at the moment.

I took the next photo a few hundred meters from the big larch. It shows a managed Norway spruce forest. DBH's are about 1.5-1.8 ft and heights 130-140 ft. The understory is mainly composed of a carpet of Norway spruce seedlings with some European beech seedlings. Spruce seedling growth stagnates due to low light levels but beech grows vigorously if there is even a small opening in the canopy.

               
                       
Fichtenforst.jpg
                       
Managed Norway spruce forest
               
               


The another big larch is called Brüsenwälder Lärche, planted about in the year 1770 and is located close to Warthe, north from Berlin, Brandenburg, very close to Heilige Hallen reserve, which Jeroen and I visited in May. I was there in September, and measuring was difficult due to very dense beech foliage. In the photo below, the other trees are: to the left from the big larch: Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) and two European beeches; to the right from the larch: Norway spruce, larches in the background and beech. Regeneration is of beech and Sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus). The plentiful beech regeneration clearly shows this would slowly turn to beech dominated forest if left alone.

               
                       
BruesenwaelderLaerche.jpg
                       
46.3 meter European larch
               
               


My measurements: Height 46.3 m (152 ft) and CBH (15.7 ft). Again, the claimed 48 m is not necessarily a measuring error: the original top is dead and dry, and the tree has grown two new tops from upper branches. All the three tops are within one meter in height, the tallest being one of the new tops. The original top has almost surely been taller when alive. The next photo shows the old and one of the new tops. The another new top is behind the beech foliage.

               
                       
BruesenwaelderLaerche-top.jpg
                       
Tops of the Brüsenwälder Lärche through beech foliage
               
               


It is interesting that although many of the other European conifers (Norway spruce, Scots pine, European silver fir) apparently do not become as tall in US as in Europe, European larch gets very close.

There is a tall European larch in Nohfelden, Rheinland Pfalz, claimed to be 50 m (164 ft), but it is a little bit too far away for me. Maybe I sometimes have something to do in the vicinity of it and can measure it. Other European countries may also have equally tall larches.

The last photo shows no big trees, but I include it here because I thought it could be interesting to American ENTS. It is a black alder (Alnus glutinosa) swamp, about ten meters from Brüsenwälder Lärche. This is the wettest forest type in Central Europe, and black alder has the best flooding tolerance among Central European trees. This like swamps are very common in the region.

               
                       
Erlenbruch.jpg
                       
Black alder swamp
               
               


UPDATE JANUARY 2013: The tallest reliably measured European larch is now 53.8 m (=177 ft) tall:
viewtopic.php?f=198&t=4538&start=10

Kouta
Last edited by KoutaR on Sun Jan 13, 2013 8:34 am, edited 2 times in total.

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#2)  Re: European larch

Postby gnmcmartin » Wed Oct 20, 2010 9:51 am

Kouta:

  Love your posts!! As you know I am very interested in forestry, and the picture of the managed Norway spruce stand really sparks my interest.  It looks very much like the stand I have talked about, but which was recently cut down, at Glady, West Virginia.  The trees at Glady were a bit taller, I think--I never had a chance to measure, and were bigger in diameter, with the dominants averaging two feet or a bit more.  But the stand there was very, very dense, and had not been "cleaned out" and pruned, to look pretty, as this one has been.  

  Here in the US the stands are thinned, when they are managed at all, which is rare, to 100 square feet of basal area, which I think is way too low.  I keep mine at 160 to 180.  I know you are not a forester, but I would wonder what the basal area of this stand is--it looks rather dense in the photo, and I would guess 160 feet or more.  Norway spruce can carry over 200 or even 240 on the best sites. I think you Europeans are miles ahead of us in terms of forest management. Any real nice intensive forestry is almost unheard of here, except on some experimental plots.

  As for larch--the topic of your post--I don't know of any larch stands planted in the 1930's, and I know of only a couple of very small patches of pure larch planted anywhere in the nearby areas of WV, MD, VA, and PA.  The best larch around here is a planting of a row along route 219 just douth of the MD border in WV.  These trees are very tall and quite nice, but it is just a row anout 100 meters long. I should get out there amd measure. They produce good seed, but I don't see any seedlings under them.

  --Gaines
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#3)  Re: European larch

Postby KoutaR » Wed Oct 20, 2010 10:44 am

Gaines,

I did not do any trunk counts or area measurements. So, I cannot say anything about basal area. I am sure you are able to estimate it from the photo much better than I.

Kouta
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#4)  Re: European larch

Postby gnmcmartin » Wed Oct 20, 2010 6:27 pm

Kouta:

  I wouldn't expect you to have any idea about basal area.  It is a technical forestry measurement--done quite simply by sighting through a specially designed prism.

  --Gaines
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#5)  Re: European larch

Postby tsharp » Wed Oct 20, 2010 7:58 pm

Kouta: Thanks for posting the picture of the Black Alder Swamp. I am only familiar with that species as it  is planted on "reclaimed" strip mines in West Virginia. Most of those sites are very dry and the Alders look sickly.
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#6)  Re: European larch

Postby johnofthetrees » Wed Oct 20, 2010 10:34 pm

Hi Kouta,

Thank you very much for your post.  It is great to see these trees in their native habitat.  Clearly the larch is able to grow to a great size with age, as in your photos.  The bark character in the lower 8' of the trunk is something that has not evolved here yet in trees from the plantation era.  We have found several large Norway spruce, but the larch is far less common, and none that large have been reported.  

It may remain to be seen how tall each of these species may grow in the U.S., but I gather that Norway spruce is the taller tree in Europe by quite a margin.

John
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#7)  Re: European larch

Postby KoutaR » Thu Oct 21, 2010 7:04 am

Turner,

Black alder really needs moisture and also fertile soil. Its natural habitats are always moist to wet.

Kouta
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#8)  Re: European larch

Postby dbhguru » Thu Oct 21, 2010 9:00 am

Kouta,

  Outstanding report as usual. Now that John Eichholz has confirmed the stand of European Larch and Norway Spruce in Buckland SF, with its 150.4-foot Norway Spruce, those two species have gained even more stature with us stateside Ents, literally and figuratively. The large Norway's on the Tanglewood campus in Lenox are joined by the tall ones in Buckland and Mohawk Trail State Forests and numerous small populations of Norway Spruce here and there. What a great species! Who would have imagined that ENTS would be embracing non-native species, but I do it unabashedly.

  Last evening, Monica and I attended a dinner for two of Monica's Smith College colleagues. The event was attended mainly by physicists and astronomers. The niece and great nephew of the great astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar were present. What an inspiring group of people! One of the physicists is from Poland and lives north of that famous old growth forest on the border with Russia. He invited us to stay on his farm if we make it to Poland. It looks more and more like a trip to Europe is on the docket. Lee Frelich will be returning to Poland next year. Maybe we could all meet up at our new friend's farm.

Bob
Robert T. Leverett
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#9)  Re: European larch

Postby KoutaR » Thu Oct 21, 2010 9:58 am

Bob,
It would be great to meet you in Europe!

Kouta
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