Thursday, May 3, 2012

Tamaracks

The Tamarack stands pretty low on the popularity list of Conifers, but not for me; and I'm out to change your mind.  The Pines and Spruces are well-known. Then the Hemlocks and Firs, followed by the Cedars and Junipers. Think of Tamaracks as the undrafted free agents. They don't attract a lot of attention, but they're in my top five list of favorite trees.



You must be intentional if you want to observe a Tamarack up close. The terms Tamarack swamp, and Tamarack bog may not appeal to the average person, but you are above average, always eager to learn. So put on your knee boots and take a Walk With Father Nature.







You can distinguish Tamarack from all other conifers by these unique characteristics:

Numerous, short, soft, light blue-green needles.



(Hardly a needle, it is so soft and pliable) From a distance, they appear "feathery".

"Warty" twigs (looks nicer than it sounds).





Short cones ( 1/2" - 3/4" long).




They shed all their needles in the fall. I have shots of those golden needles, just before falling, but I will save them for the fall. Guess you'll have to come back.

A Deciduous Evergreen is an oxymoron.
A Deciduous Conifer sounds odd, but is accurate for the Tamarack.
Conifer simply means cone-bearing.

HABITAT:

They require open sunlight, forming a pyramidal crown. The lower section is broader, more open, with irregular horizontal branches.




Tamaracks grow rapidly for 40 - 50 years, then it slows considerably, reaching possibly 150 years old.
Height = 40' - 50', 75' max. Its root system is shallow and wide-spread in the wet ground.

LEAVES:

Needles are scattered singly on new shoots, but clustered (in bundles of 15-35) on short, lateral branches. They sprout from what looks like a miniature, woody stump, with concentric rings.








FLOWERS (Cones):

Unisexual; on the same tree. Female cones start out with rose-red scales; appearing on 2-4 year old branches.



They ripen in the fall and shed their seeds.


The northernmost Tamaracks reproduce by new shoots rising from buried branches.







OTHER:

Infestations of Larch Sawfly attract several bird species to the Tamarack. Red Crossbills extract seeds from the cones, while species of grouse consume the leaves (needles) and buds. Mice, voles and shrews stash or eat seeds fallen to the ground. Snowshoe Hares and Porcupines feed on the bark.


References:

The Book of Swamp and Bog
(Trees, Shrubs, and Wildflowers of Eastern Freshwater Wetlands)
John Eastman
Illustrated by Amelia Hansen
c 1995 Stackpole Books

Michigan Trees
Charles Herbert Otis
University of Michigan Press
c 1931, 1965