Alpine Larch Tree in mid-October.
Needles of Alpine Larch.
There are two larch species in Washington - the Alpine Larch (aka Lyall's Larch) and the Western Larch. The type of larch tree in the Enchantments is Alpine Larch, which grows at elevations above 5,000 ft (the Western Larch grows at elevations between 2,000-5,500 ft).
The Alpine Larch lives at high elevations in the Rocky Mountains of Idaho, Montana, British Columbia, and Alberta. The Alpine Larches in the Enchantments are part of a disjunct population on the east slopes of the Cascade Range of Washington.
The Alpine Larch is a hardy tree, often found in the most inhospitable, rocky spots in north-facing basins buried by snow much of the year. It is also the smallest type of larch, growing from 30-70 ft tall, and shorter at higher elevations. The branches of the Alpine Larch are horizontal to the trunk, irregularly spaced and twisted by the snow, ice, and winds of its extreme habitats. (The Western Larch, by contrast, grows straight and tall, sometimes reaching 200 ft.) The needles of the Alpine Larch are about 1 inch long and crowded in groups of 30-40.
Larch is one of only two deciduous conifers in North America. It has needles on what look like typical evergreen trunks and branches, but like a leafy tree, it drops its needles in the fall. The needles of the Alpine Larch are pale blue-green in the summer, but turn a spectacular golden yellow in the autumn before they fall off for the winter. Usually, the trees begin turning golden in late September, reach their peak brightness in mid-October, and fall off by the winds and storms of November. The alpine spectacle that larches create in October is so compelling that many hikers plan annual trips to trails known for the trees.
The larch is a fire-resistant species that could play an important role as national forest managers attempt to restore the health of federal forests across the West. Amazingly, these trees may live in excess of 1000 years.
Okay, now for some photos!!