Sunday, 28 October 2012

Colourful conifer holds it own among autumnal maples


It took a while to see past the 50 shades of red displayed by the maples at Wakehurst Place. But when I did, I was drawn to the contrasting yellow (leaves) and black (wet bark) of this, the Golden Larch.

But first a few pictures of the competition. Lots of maples and ash, plus plenty of other trees from temperate parts of the world.



And this show-off...


Conifers of course are generally evergreen and not know for their bright colours. At Wakehurst Place ('Kew in the Country') Golden Larch is one of six deciduous conifers grown. The others, according to this charming sign next to a Golden Larch, are: the Dawn Redwood, Swamp Cypress, Ginkgo, Larch and Chinese Swamp Cypress.


This specimen (with its top removed after the Great Storm, 25 years ago this week) belongs to the sole species in a genus of larch-like trees called Pseudolarix. They grow more or less naturally in forests of the lower Yangtze River valley in south-east China.

The extent of Golden Larch in this part of China has most probably been reduced, and expanded, by intensive human activities in this area over recent centuries. If we go way back - millions of years - it once grew in North America, Europe and more widely in Asia. It hasn't changed much over that time: there were at most only two species and now there is one, Pseudolarix amabilis.

Robert Fortune, a Scottish botanist who worked at Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh and became Curator of Chelsea Physic Garden in London, brought the plant out of China in 1853.

As you will have gathered, Pseudlarix is not a real Larix. In the common tongue, Golden Larch not a Larch. Superficially they are similar but the False Larch, as it is sometimes called, has longer and much softer leaves and larger, globe-artichoke-shaped cones.

To confuse things a little, Trees@Kew points out that one of the true larches, Larix kaempferi (Japanese Larch), has similar autumnal colours and may be also called Golden Larch.

The leaves on this tree will change from golden yellow to orange-brown before they fall in a week or so. Until then though, you can see them where the red dots indicate on these maps of Kew Gardens (left) and Wakehurst Place (right).




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