Botanical Name: Larix kaempferi
Species: L. kaempferi
Common Names: Japanese larch or Karamatsu
Habitat:Larix kaempferi is native to Japan. It grows at altitudes up to 2,900 m on well-drained soils, avoiding waterlogged ground. It grows in the mountains of Chubu and Kanto regions in central Honshu. Japanese larch is an important tree in forestry plantations, being grown throughout central and northern Japan, and also widely in northern Europe, particularly Ireland and Britain.
Larix kaempferi is a medium-sized to large deciduous coniferous tree reaching 20–40 m tall, with a trunk up to 1 m diameter. The crown is broad conic; both the main branches and the side branches are level, the side branches only rarely drooping. The shoots are dimorphic, with growth divided into long shoots (typically 10–50 cm long) and bearing several buds, and short shoots only 1–2 mm long with only a single bud. The leaves are needle-like, light glaucous green, 2–5 cm long; they turn bright yellow to orange before they fall in the autumn, leaving the pinkish-brown shoots bare until the next spring.
The cones are erect, ovoid-conic and 2–3.5 cm long, with 30–50 reflexed seed scales; they are green when immature, turning brown and opening to release the seeds when mature, 4–6 months after pollination. The old cones commonly remain on the tree for many years, turning dull grey-black.
The scientific name honours Engelbert Kaempfer. It is also sometimes known by the synonym Larix leptolepi.
Landscape Uses:Specimen. Prefers an open airy position in a light or gravelly well-drained soil. Plants are intolerant of badly drained soils, but they tolerate acid and infertile soils. Succeeds on rocky hill or mountain sides and slopes. A north or east aspect is more suitable than west or south. This species is very cold-hardy when fully dormant, but the trees can be excited into premature growth in Britain by mild spells during the winter and they are then very subject to damage by late frosts and cold winds. Slow growing for its first two or three years from seed, it is then very vigorous making between 1 and 1.5 metres increase in height a year. The belief that older trees do not do so well is erroneous, 50 year old specimens in Britain are still growing rapidly. Trees have been planted for timber in N.W. Europe. The heavy leaf-fall from this species soon suppresses any other vegetation, including rhododendrons Hybridizes freely with other members of this genus. There are many named varieties, selected for their ornamental value, most of these are dwarf forms. Open ground plants, 1 year x 1 year are the best for planting out, do not use container grown plants with spiralled roots. Plants transplant well, even when coming into growth in the spring. The trees are attractive to small finches, tits and treecreepers. Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus. Special Features: Not North American native, Attractive flowers or blooms.
Larix kaempferi is used for ornamental purposes in parks and gardens. It is also widely used as material for bonsai. The dwarf cultivars ‘Blue Dwarf’, growing to 1.5 m (4.9 ft) tall and broad, and ‘Nana’, growing to 1 m (3.3 ft) tall and broad, have gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. The wood is tough and durable, used for general construction work. Small larch poles are widely used for fencing.
The heavy leaf-fall of this species has lead to it being planted as a fire-break in some areas where pine trees are grown. A fast-growing tree, it can be used in shelterbelt plantings. The bark contains tannin.
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