The Tamarack ((Larix laricina)) is one of the three indigenous Larch species that can be found in North America. It has the greatest range of all North American conifers. The Tamarack grows across Canada and the northern United States to the east of the Rocky Mountains and in an isolated pocket in central Alaska. Like all larches it is a deciduous tree capable of withstanding extreme cold.

The Tamarisk grows to a height of 10 to 20 metres. It has a slender trunk. The red brown bark is often flaky. In spring light blue-green needles form in dense clusters from short spur shoots. The spurs generate small yellow male flowers within one or two years. Older spurs produce red inconspicuous female flowers. Cones form within the fresh growth. These are the smallest cones produced by any larch. They ripen within four to six months of pollination, turn bright red and expel their seeds. In autumn the needles turn yellow and small buds wait for spring.

The Tamarack has many tricks to ensure its survival. Long thin needles minimise transpiration and water loss. In winter when the soil is frozen water conservation is crucial. In the autumn larch trees undergo physiological changes that involve leaf loss and the production of an antifreeze to keep the sap flowing. The leaf loss helps to reduce transpiration during the winter. It also helps conserve nutrients so that the plant can make quick growth in the spring.

The Tamarask is a specialist in colonising new sites. This tree tolerates a wide range of soil conditions but prefers the moist organic soils that can be found in sphagnum moss and peat bog lands. It is the first tree to venture into draining bogs. It is a pioneer in sites cleared by forest fires.

The quest for light limits the Tamarack’s role as a successor species. The young saplings can tolerate a some shade. Thereafter the Tamarack needs to be the dominant tree in the stand. The Tamarack is often seen with a long straight trunk where lower limbs have fallen away to allow the plant can concentrate on growth within the crown. This tree can not even tolerate its own shade.

The search for light limits the trees that are compatible with the Tamarack.

It is most commonly found in stands with Black Spruce, sometimes with Balsam Fir, White Spruce, Quaking Aspen, Northern White Cedar and Red Maple. In time even the Black Spruce deprives the Tamarack of the light it needs and becomes the dominant species.

Ironically the Tamarack admits a great deal of light to the forest floor and a wide range of densely growing shrubs are able to grow beneath the canopy.

The Tamarack has many weaknesses. The bark is thin which means that the tree is vulnerable to forest fire. The roots are shallow which means that the tree is intolerant of high winds. When not threatened by drought and fire scientists have found that waterlogged conditions can cause slow growth and die back. It is also vulnerable to a wide range of pests and pathogens. The Tamarack is particularly vulnerable to larch sawfly epidemics which cause great loss of commercial timber.

Wood from the Tamarack has good properties. It is light, tough, durable and rot resistant. The Algonquian people used it to make snowshoes. Today most of the wood is used for pulp, rough lumber (such as boxes and crates) and for fencing.

This tree was is the named the Tamarack by Algonquian native Americans. It is also known as the Hackmatack, or American Larch and by a wide variety of common names. Some of these common names are: Alaska larch, Alerce Americano, Black Larch, Eastern Canadian Larch, Eastern Larch, Epinette Rouge, Kanada-lark, Ka-neh-tens, Meleze d’Amerique, Red Larch, Tamarac, and Tamarac Meieze Occidental.