What tree looks like an evergreen, has needles and cones like an evergreen, but is actually considered a deciduous tree? None other than Larix laricina or the Tamarack.
The tamarack tree is a native species not only to London, Ontario, but can be found throughout Canada and the northern United States. The confusion over whether it is a deciduous or coniferous tree comes from the fact that while it does have soft needles (2-3 cm long), like most coniferous trees, in the Autumn those needles turn yellow and fall off, with a new set of needles growing the following spring. Thus tamaracks fall into the category of deciduous conifers!
The tamarack’s common name comes from the Abenaki (First Nations language) word for “wood used for snowshoes”. As you might guess, it was a favourite material for these winter shoes, as well as toboggans and goose decoys. This is due to the fact that the wood is strong, yet when cut into thin strips very pliable. The roots and twigs were also used for anything from medicine bags to twine to sew together canoes. The bark was used in tanning and the wood itself used for firewood. Many First Nations people also looked to the tamarack for medicinal uses in anything from tonics, to gargles, to poultices for burns, as a laxative, and even to cure headaches. Young shoots are also edible and quite nutritious when boiled and eaten.
Tamarack’s aren’t just appreciated for that though. They can grow up to 20 metres tall, prefer swampy areas with wet or moist soil, and need full sun. That being said, these cold tolerant trees can tolerate a wide variety of soils and are found in every province in Canada. They are monoecious with small yellow (male) or red/maroon (female) flowers, that produce small red cones which gradually turn brown before releasing its seeds. You might appreciate the colour, but wildlife like chipmunks appreciate the taste!
The best part about the Tamarack is that it will be available at ReForest London’s tree sale at Lorne Ave PS (723 Lorne Ave) on Saturday, May 3rd, 2014. Along with the Old East Village Community Association, ReForest London will be selling tamarack trees, as well as a variety of other native tree species, from 8 am – 11:30 am. Prices are as follows;
Small trees (2′ – 3′ tall, in 1 – 2 gallon pots): $5
Larger trees (3′ – 6′ tall, in 2 – 7 gallon pots): $10
You can’t beat that price and you certainly can’t beat the Tamarack for a great native tree to plant in your sunny space.