The common larch, also known as European Larch or Alpine Larch (Larix decidua Mill., 1768) is a conifer belonging to the Pinaceae family.
From the systematic point of view it belongs to the Domain Eukaryota, Kingdom Plantae, Subarign Tracheobionta, Superdivisione Spermatophyta, Division Pinophyta, Class Pinopsida, Order Pinales, Family Pinaceae and then to the Genus Larix and to the Specie L. decidua.
The term Larix comes from the Latin name of the larch, assonant with the Greek term λᾶρός láros, pleasant, referring to the aroma. The specific deciduous epithet derives from decido (from de and cado) falling down, falling to the ground: for the characteristic of this species that totally loses its leaves in winter.
Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
The Larix decidua is a native species of the mountains of Central Europe, the Alps and the Carpathians, Tatras. In Italy it is very common in all the Alps, where it goes even beyond 2,500 meters. Where the wood gives way to the alpine meadows, isolated individuals meet, deformed by the wind and snow.
The common larch is an arboreal species that can reach 40 meters. The trunk is cylindrical and the crown is open and sparse, with the branches of the first order horizontal, while those of the second order are pendulous. The leaves are deciduous (2-4 centimeters long), needle-like, soft and non-pungent, spirally distributed around the branch on the macroblasts and gathered instead with 20-30 bundles on the brachiblasts, with light green coloring turning golden yellow into Autumn. The flowers are unisexual; the male cones are yellow and the female ones red; the antesis is between April and May; after pollination, the cones become brown, extend up to 4 cm and persist for a long time on the branch, even for years.
Larix decidua mainly needs bright, sunny and well-ventilated places; it is a plant that does not tolerate the very hot climate and the one characterized by too harsh winters with frequent nocturnal frosts. Summer temperatures that are too high may cause early leaf fall due to widespread burns. Although highly adaptable, the preferred medium must be dissolved, well-drained and with a slightly acidic pH value. To favor the development of the plant, before the plant the soil can be mixed with mature organic fertilizer, perhaps with the addition of a little peat. The larch is multiplied by seed in spring, preferably in March. Sowing is carried out by planting the seeds, harvested in autumn, in pots containing a mixture of peat and sand in equal parts that must always be kept moist until the first sprouts appear. The young larch plants should be grown in single pots for at least 2 years before being put to permanent residence. The best time to implant the Larice is autumn.
For the production larch woods, the most used system is that of marginal cutting, which consists of a cut of 0.1 to 0.5 hectares of rectangular or circular shape that favors natural renewal. If artificial renewal is carried out, 3000 seedlings are planted per hectare, which must then be thinned out to a minimum of 500 to 600 plants. The most productive larch woods contain 200 to 300 plants per hectare. For some details of the cultivation technique, see the following sheet.
Uses and Traditions –
The Larix decidua has the characteristic, which distinguishes it totally from other European conifers, of totally losing its leaves in winter; this gives it greater resistance to the cold and can be recognized at first sight in a winter mountain forest.
This larch presumably has origins from a pseudo-Larix stock from northern and northern Siberia, which came to central and southern Europe at the time of the last glaciation. Once the ice settlements began, the populations of this conifer remained isolated in the European mountains of the Alps and, to a lesser extent, the Carpathians. Left alone in this ecological island the populations have evolved autonomously becoming a species in their own right.
The wood of the common larch is known and worked since ancient times for its durability and robustness. For its easy processing, its beautiful deep red color is appreciated in carpentry work, especially for exteriors. Immersed in water, it becomes very resistant. Like other conifers, the turpentine (turpentine from Venice) is extracted from the resin. The bark is used for the extraction of tannin. Its wood is well known in Valle d’Aosta, in Trentino, in Alto Adige and in the Belluno area, as a building material for houses. With the wood of this conifer one can even carve a type of long-lasting roof tile (the so-called Schindola, Schindel or Scandola).
Moreover, the wood of this conifer, as well as a construction material, has always been used as fuel for stoves and fireplaces. The local populations chose it, moreover, for its best characteristics and its higher cost (thanks to its less common diffusion than the spruce) to market it.
It should also be remembered that larch woods play both a production and a protection function; the protection function is well done considering the rapid growth, the robust stem and the deep roots. However, due to the deciduous foliage that prevents the interception of rainfall, it is a plant that must be associated with other species, such as spruce or broad-leaved, to perform a suitable protection of the soil.
Preparation Mode –
In addition to turpentine from the common larch, essential oils and laricina are extracted that are valid in the treatment of bronchial and bladder catarrhs. It has antiseptic action, used as syrup, in the respiratory and urinary tract diseases. For external use, inhalations are valid, together with thymus and eucalyptus. In solution it helps to heal the skin sores. In the heartwood (heart of wood) is Arabinogalactan, a polysaccharide that offers innumerable benefits as a prebiotic and immune system modulator. Recent studies highlight its potential in the treatment of chronic diseases, including cancer. Rich in fiber can be used as a dietary supplement to restore the bacterial flora of the intestine.
The inner part of the cortex is astringent, balsamic, diuretic, expectorant, stimulating and vulnerable. Its main use is as an expectorant in chronic bronchitis and, for internal use, in the treatment of cystitis and hemorrhages. A cold extract of the bark can be used as a laxative or, applied on the skin, in the treatment of chronic eczema and psoriasis. From the resin we obtain turpetin, a substance that has antiseptic, balsamic, diuretic, hemostatic and vermifuge properties. It is a valid remedy in the treatment of kidney and bladder, in rheumatic diseases and in respiratory affections.
– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Pharmacy of the Lord, Advice and experience with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Publisher
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (edited by), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only and do not in any way represent a medical prescription; there is therefore no liability for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.