Green needles in spring
Softly adorn my branches
Blazing gold in fall
A last show before winter
I am Tamarack. The Algonquian people gave me this name which means "wood used for snowshoes". Others used the name hackmatack. Larch is another one of my names and you might know me as Eastern, Alaskan, American, Black or Red Larch.
I once was much honoured and played an important role in the lives of the indigenous people. I supplied tough flexible wood for snowshoes in winter and my roots were used to sew their birch bark canoes together for summer travel. I was used medicinally for a variety of problems and body imbalances. Tannins were extracted from my bark and used to tan leather. Later, my decay-resistant wood was used for railway ties, poles, posts and pilings and even mouse-proof floors. Ship builders prized my roots for joining ribs to the deck timbers. Today, many of these uses have been forgotten or are no longer important. The plastic and synthetics of today's world have replaced many of my roles and I am now largely ignored and forgotten.
Times have been difficult recently. The landscape has been altered in many places and habitat loss and drainage have made the land less favorable for me to thrive. Insects and disease have caused much stress. Some of these are new while others have always been here, but the balance seems to have been lost and I struggle more to be strong and healthy.
I still try to be a vibrant part of the landscape. Tamarack bogs are a quiet place of wonder and beauty. The Great Gray Owl makes its home in my domain, ever watchful for the sight and sound of small mammals that will sustain it and its young. The owls’ haunting calls seep through my limbs and wash over the landscape – a remote and eerie place to be on a moonlit night. Come, listen to the mysterious sounds of the wild. Listen to the wind sigh through my branches. Open your ears and hear the drums beat and remember how wise, strong and glorious I once was. Pause and pay respect to my ancestors and me.
Tamarack trees (Larix laricina) are deciduous conifers that can be found in bogs and wet habitats through most of the forested regions across the northeastern United States, a large part of Canada and into Alaska. Their yellow needles in fall lead some people to think they are dying, but fresh green needles emerge in spring and once again transform the trees into the familiar, if misnamed, “evergreens”. Tamarack populations have decreased in different areas over time due to factors such as loss of (or changes in) habitat, insects and disease. Once the most populous tree in Minnesota, the Tamarack now ranks 6th or 7th. One of its major challenges is a native insect called the Eastern Larch Beetle (ELB), whose population numbers are cyclic in nature. Although always present in small numbers, it may be many years before there is an ELB outbreak which can then have a devastating effect on tamarack populations. Starting in 2000-01, ELB killed large numbers of tamarack in northeastern Minnesota in stands that had no obvious history of defoliation, drought or flooding injury. In some areas of Alaska, 50% of the tamarack were killed in just over two years.
In Manitoba, an outbreak of ELB that began in 2001 has expanded through much of the tamarack range in the Province. The beetles breed in standing trees as well as logs stored with the bark intact. Infested trees and logs should be utilized or removed from tamarack stands before the emergence of beetles in the spring. Tamarack fuel wood should not be stored with bark intact in spring and summer in close proximity to live, healthy tamarack trees. If not used during the winter months, logs should be debarked for longer term storage. For more information see http://www.gov.mb.ca/conservation/forestry/health/eastern-larch.html
First Nations People made use of tamaracks for both food and medicine. Bark, needles and resin were utilized. The fresh green needles were a welcome source of Vitamin C in spring and used to help with respiratory complaints due to cold and flu. More recent research has shown that tamarack wood contains polysaccharides called arabinogalactins. Studies indicate these compounds help to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer, act as a prebiotic to help stimulate and promote good bacteria in the digestive tract, and help to produce digestive enzymes. (Reference: “The Boreal Herbal: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North” by Beverley Gray.)