Is it Larch or Tamarack?

By Beacon Staff

Whether you call Montana’s fall fireworks Larch or Tamarack may come down to a question of your roots.

“The older families here,” says Flathead Valley Community College instructor Bob Beall, “they came from Minnesota and Wisconsin, they brought the name [Tamarack] with them.”

On the other hand, Beall says many of the families in Libby came from the Olympic Peninsula. They call it Larch.

“We tend to have a bit different terminologies in two towns, even though they’re only 95 miles apart,” Beall explains.

The Algonquin people of the eastern United States named the Tamarack. The British Columbia Ministry of Forests and Range’s online “Tree Book” defines the tamarack as “a small, slender tree which rarely grows more than 15 meters tall.” It says the word Tamarack comes from the Algonquin word akemantak, meaning “wood used for snowshoes.” They can grow up to 65 feet high, and up to about 2 feet in diameter. The Algonquin used the Tamarack to make snow shoes because the wood is tough, but flexible.

Western Larch, found here in Western Montana and in Northern Idaho, is the largest of the American Larches. The Forest Service notes they’ve found 700-year-old trees with an 8-foot diameter and towering 200-feet high. They can live up to 850 years, and grow to more than 260 feet. It’s the strongest of the soft woods, often used in construction and the manufacture of lumber and plywood.

They’re the same genus, larix, but different species. Western Larch is Larix occidentalis, while Tamarack is Larix laricina.

“What I tell people,” says Beall, “you call them whatever your grandma called them and you can’t be wrong.”

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