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Quick facts

Common names: larch, European larch

Scientific name: Larix decidua

Family: Pinaceae

Origin: non-native

Mature larch can grow to 30m and live for 250 years. It is fairly fast growing and cone-shaped when young, becoming broad with age. The bark is pinkish-brown in colour and thick, and develops wide vertical fissures with age. Twigs are amber or slightly pink, and hairless.

Look out for: the needles which form in clusters, like rosettes, along the twigs.

Identified in winter by: the small oval cones that remain on the tree, and the loss of its needle-like leaves.

What does European larch look like?

European larch leaves

Credit: Margaret Barton / WTML

Leaves

Light green leaves are soft and needle-like, 2–4cm long, and grow in tufts from short woody knobs, or shoots, on the twigs. They turn golden yellow before falling in autumn.

European larch tree female flower in spring

Credit: Tim Gainey / Alamy Stock Photo

Flowers

Male flowers form on the underside of shoots, and are globular clusters of creamy-yellow anthers. Female flowers grow at the tips of shoots and are often referred to as ‘larch roses’. They comprise flower-like clusters of scales in pink, green or white.

European larch tree cones on branch

Credit: Geoff Scott Simpson / naturepl.com

Fruits

After pollination by wind, the female flowers ripen into brown cones 3–4cm long with a hollow top. They gradually open their scales to release the winged seeds within which are distributed by wind.

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Where to find European larch

European larch originates in central Europe but is now widespread in the UK, having been planted for timber.

Did you know?

Larch trees can retain old cones on their stems for many years.

Value to wildlife

The seeds of the European larch are eaten by red squirrels and a number of birds, including the siskin and lesser redpoll, while the buds and immature cones are eaten by black grouse. The caterpillars of many moths feed on the foliage, including the case-bearer moth and larch pug. Larch tortrix moth caterpillars eat the cone scales.

Wildlife which benefits from larch:

Mythology and symbolism

In European folklore, larch was said to protect against enchantment. The wearing and burning of larch was thought to protect against evil spirits.

Did you know?

Larch is very hardy, so hardy that some species were thought to be impenetrable by fire.

Uses of European larch

European larch was one of the first trees to be introduced to the UK for its timber and has a pale, creamy-brown sapwood and a red-brown heartwood. It is hard and resistant to rot.

Threats and conservation

Larch is susceptible to the fungal disease larch canker. It can also be affected by larch bark beetle and butt rot fungus. Most recently it has been affected by the ramorum disease, which affects and kills Japanese larch trees and is spreading throughout western parts of the UK.