Needles: Alpine Larch is similar to Western Larch, with needles that are less than 2 inches long and come in large bundles. Also like Western Larch, it sheds its needles in the fall. You can distinguish these two species by looking at the shape of the needles. Western Larch needles are 3-sided, while Alpine Larch needles have 4 sides.
Cones: The cones look similar to Western Larch cones, with whiskers that stick out beyond the scales. While Western Larch cones connect to the branch on short stalks, Alpine Larch cones are nearly stalkless.
Bark: The bark is brown or gray with flaky plates on large trees.
Where it grows: Alpine larch grows at elevations higher than Western Larch, near the timberline, on the east side of the North Cascades in Washington. It also grows in the Rocky Mountains of Idaho, Montana, and Canada. Its range is limited in the Northwest, but where it grows, it is often dominant, growing higher and larger than other subalpine conifers. It stands out even more in the fall when the needles turn golden yellow.
Names: Larix, translates to "larch." The species name honors botanist Robert Lyall.
© 2012 Ken Denniston