by John Brouwer
This is the only conifer tree in north America which drops all its leaves in the fall. The needles turn gold in the fall and are responsible for the golden vistas one sees throughout northern Ontario in October.
Tamarack comes from an Algonquin word, akemantak, meaning "wood used for snowshoes." A related European species is known as larch.
Tamarack is very cold tolerant - to -65C. This is the southern most area of Tamarack's range and it extends northward to the Arctic tree line across the country. Here tamarack can grow to 75 feet, although in the arctic the tree rarely exceeds 15 feet. A small tree in the Arctic can be 100 years old. Being in the northern transitional zone of the Carolinian forest, we are privileged to have trees from both zones and tamarack is representative of that transition.
Tamarack can grow in water-logged soils and needs full sun. This allows it to thrive in wet swamps and muskegs where it has full access to sun and other trees can't survive in the wet conditions. Within ecological systems tamarack is an early succession tree which is displaced by black spruce, poplars and birches as accumulation of organic matter create drier soil conditions for these species which eventually over shade the tamaracks.
The tree adapts to water-logged soil by keeping its roots within the top two feet of soil and growing a wide shallow root system. On drier land tamarack develops a much deeper root system. This adaptable root system provides it with the ability to thrive under various soil conditions.
Tamarack wood is tough, durable, and also flexible in thin strips. Its flexibility made it a preferred choice for snowshoes and toboggans. Tamarack roots were used to sew birch bark together to cover canoes and houses and for weaving baskets. Setters used the crooks in tamarack roots to make the knees for small wooden boats. Because tamarack is rot-resistant, early surveyors used the posts for boundary markers as they privatized the North American commons.
The inner bark has been used in a poultice to treat cuts, infected wounds, frost bit, boils, and haemorrhoids. The outer bark was useful in treating arthritis and for general pain relief.
The Cree used tamarack twigs to make the traditional goose decoys required to lure geese within range of arrows and spears.
Presently tamarack is used primarily for pulpwood. It is also used for poles, rough lumber and firewood.
Tamarack is an under-utilized landscape tree. Its flexible needles make it an attractive specimen and the yellow fall colour makes a spectacular late season display.
We have two tamaracks in the open area across from block two and one is growing adjacent to the fence along Pine Ridge Road. The two along the road are now large enough to provide a yellow display in late fall.