Tamarack, Larix laricina
Identify this lovely tree by its soft needles, pinkish bark, delicate cones, and beautiful gold autumn coloring. It is the only Wisconsin conifer to lose its leaves in the winter, so chances are you won’t find it standing in your house during the holidays! This, along with its light supple pinewood, may be why these trees, also known as hackmatack, derive from the Algonquian for “wood used for making snowshoes.”
The tamarack, or American larch, is a cold-tolerant conifer found primarily in Canada, but with southern populations in Wisconsin, Michigan, and the northeastern US. Most tamaracks reach 30-60 ft during adulthood and prefer living in swampy environments. Like other conifers, tamaracks are also able to survive in extreme climates with temperatures as low as -85°F. They also reproduce successfully after burns and are known to be the first trees to return to an area destroyed in a fire.
While it might seem like this tree is invincible, it has at least one enemy: the eastern larch beetle, which makes holes in the tree, disrupting its flow of sugars and other nutrients. The insect, although small, is on the rise with warming temperatures. Although tamarack trees don’t like these beetles, woodpeckers do. These birds enjoy eating the beetles and can help make a difference in saving these otherwise hardy trees. Can you spot any woodpeckers near the tamarack strand?