This is a blog about the native conifers of the Pacific Northwest. It is a companion to the Northwest Conifers site. The blog will focus on timely and interesting details about our conifers, their connections to the rest of the environment, and our connection to them.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Deciduous Conifers

Most conifers are evergreen. When fall comes and we venture out looking for beautiful fall colors, we are looking for maples and other flowering trees, not conifers. However, not all conifers are evergreen. Some are deciduous. That is, the needles lose their green color each fall in a burst of golden color and then fall to the ground.
Japanese Larch
Larch Needles
The most widespread deciduous conifers are the larches. Ten species of larch grow across the northern continents. Two species of larch grow in the Pacific Northwest: Western larch and alpine larch. Larches have two kinds of branchlets: Long shoots with needles spread along the shoot, and short shoots with needles at the end in bundles of about 25. Cones usually grow on short shoots, too. Some of the cones have long bracts that protrude beyond the scales, while short bracts are hidden in the scales. Larches are closely related to Douglas fir.

Western Larch

Alpine larch - Larix lyallii. Native to the North Cascades and Rocky Mts.  
Chinese larch‎ - Larix potaninii. Native to Himalayas. Used for construction.
Dahurian larch - Larix gmelinii. Native to E. Russia, Mongolia, and NE China.
Eastern larch - Larix laricina. Native to NE US, Canada, and south central Alaska.
European larch - Larix decidua. Important timber tree.
Japanese larch‎ - Larix kaempferi. Popular bonsai. Important timber tree.
Masters larch - Larix mastersiana. Native to China.
Siberian larch - Larix sibirica. Wood similar to European larch.
Sikkim larch -  Larix griffithii. Native to eastern Himalayas. Used for construction.
Western larch - Larix occidentalis. Native to the Pacific Northwest. In the Cascades, Western Larch grows mostly on the east side at elevations up to 6000 feet. Important timber tree. The wood is similar in strength to Douglas fir.
Other Deciduous Conifers
Dawn Redwood
Dawn redwood
- Metasequoia glyptostroboides. Fossils of this tree are common in North  America (including the John Day Fossil Beds in Oregon), but it was thought to be extinct. Yet it was found alive in China in the 1940’s. It’s now a popular ornamental.

Bald cypress - Taxodium distichum. This native of southeast USA is an important timber tree, and a popular ornamental in the Pacific Northwest. The needles look similar to the dawn redwood, but don't grow in opposing pairs like those on the dawn redwood.

Golden larch - Pseudolarix amabilis. This is the only species in the genus Pseudolarix. As the scientific name implies, it is not a true larch (Larix), being more closely related to firs and cedars (Abies and Cedrus). Like these trees, the cones of golden larch sit upright and disintegrate when they disperse their seeds. It is native to eastern China.

Chinese swamp cypress - Glyptostrobus pensilis. This is the only living species in the genus Glyptostrobus. It’s native to southeastern China and northern Vietnam. When the dawn redwood was first discovered, it was placed in this genus, but then classified as Metasequoia. The species name of the dawn redwood, glyptostroboides, recognizes the earlier classification.
Maidenhair tree - Ginkgo biloba. Although not a conifer, the maidenhair tree is a deciduous tree closely related to the conifers. It's very ancient, dating back to nearly 300 million years ago. I call it an uncle of the conifers. Its fall colors are strikingly bright.


To tour the deciduous conifers at Hoyt Arboretum in Portland, click here for a map.
More info
Native larches
Bald cypress
Golden larch
Chinese swamp cypress

Ken Denniston
November 2017