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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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