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A tree usually 50 to 80 ft high (up to 100 ft in favourable situations), with a trunk sometimes nearly 2 ft in diameter; bark reddish, dividing into small, roundish, closely appressed scales; young shoots often glaucous, turning yellowish brown, not or only very slightly downy. Leaves three-sided, 3⁄4to 11⁄4in. long, very slender, bluntish. Cones egg-shaped, 1⁄3 to 2⁄3 in. long, 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 in. wide, with fifteen to twenty scales; bracts very small, enclosed by the scales.
Native of N. America from Newfoundland and Labrador west across the continent to Alaska and extending into the United States as far as N. Pennsylvania and the Lake States; introduced, according to Aiton before 1760 (this refers to the tree planted at Hounslow by the Duke of Argyll, but it is very likely that the tree which Peter Collinson had at Peckham as early as 1739 was also L. laricina). The tamarack has never been much cultivated, owing, no doubt, to the greater beauty and economic value of the European larch. From other larches it is easily distinguished by the reddish, scaly bark and very small cones. For trees cultivated in the British Isles the curling shoot-systems are another useful field character.
In the course of his researches in British tree collections, Alan Mitchell has found none of the trees mentioned earlier this century by Elwes and Henry, which suggests that this larch is short-lived in our climate. He has recorded the following, nearly all comparatively young: National Pinetum, Bedgebury, Kent, pl. 1925, 54 × 51⁄4 ft. (1968); Sutton Place, Guildford, 63 × 6 ft (1966); Wakehurst Place, Sussex, 60 × 31⁄2 ft (1968); Leonardslee, Sussex, 53 × 5 ft (1962); Nymans, Sussex, 75 × 31⁄4 ft (1970); Borde Hill, Sussex, 65 × 33⁄4 ft (1957); Leighton Hall, Montg., 66 × 31⁄4 ft (1968).
As remarked on page 524, this is not a long-lived tree in our climate, and most of the larger trees have gone the way of those measured by Elwes and Henry early this century. The only one of good size measured recently is: University Botanic Garden, Cambridge, 66 × 43⁄4 ft (1984).