Western Larch (Larix occidentalis) is is native to southern interior British Columbia, eastern Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. It is rarely found in pure stands, and is usually mixed with Douglas Fir, Lodgepole Pine, Engelmann Spruce and Western Hemlock. The trees grow from 2 to 3 feet in diameter and from 100 to 140 feet in height.
Western Larch is one of the only conifers that are actually deciduous, meaning they shed their needle-like leaves each year. Their light green needles turn bright yellow late Autumn, and then fall to the ground leaving their branches bare until the next spring.
The wood of western larch closely resembles that of Douglas fir in terms of durability and strength, making it suitable for structural and re-manufactured products. Larch has a higher density compared to Douglas Fir, the lumber also typically contains smaller knots. It is one of the slowest growing commercial softwoods, creating a very tight, uniform grain structure.
Larch is similar in appearance to Douglas Fir. The most notable difference is the coffee brown tone of the heartwood compared to the more salmon pink colour found in the heartwood of Douglas Fir. Larch sapwood is much lighter than the heartwood, and appears yellowish-white in colour. The heartwood content of western larch is often very high, the sapwood is usually only 1/2 – 3/4 of an inch thick in the log.
There is a pronounced contrast between the springwood and summerwood in Larch lumber, which is especially apparent in a flat grain. Larch lumber is known as a ‘straight-grained’ wood because of its straight, uniformly narrow bands of spring and summerwood.
Larch wood is very dense and durable, but also reasonably flexible when cut into thin boards. It is particularly valued for laminated beams, mine timbers, flooring and paneling. The resins and tannins in the heartwood of Larch are naturally rot-resistant, making it a great alternative to Western Red Cedar for outdoor uses such as decking and fencing.