Yes, we have a State Champion tree in City Park. The European Larch is an impressive tree and once you know what it looks like, easy to find. This particular tree is hidden in with a bunch of conifers. What distinguishes a larch from other conifers? It’s deciduous and loses it leaves, which the uninitiated would call needles. The big tree isn’t the only example of a larch in the park. There is a recently planted–in the last ten or fifteen years—larch just behind the Kentucky Coffeetree. This second tree is tall and spindly while the champion tree is tall, sturdy, and spooky looking.
The distribution of the European larch, which is an introduced, non-native tree, is, as you may have guessed, the eastern part of the US and Canada. Its range is less than the many other trees reported on so far. North American Trees reports European Larch “is planted and sometimes escapes”! According to the 1932 pamphlet European Larch in the Northeastern United States by Stuart Hunt, larch was introduced into England in 1629 and into the US in the mid 1800s, in both cases for lumber. If you are a fan of the Great British Bake-off, you might have noticed a larch outside the baking tent. The largest larch in the world may be one in Switzerland which also may be 900 years old! It makes our larch look like an anemic relative by comparison.
Many authors report larch wood is fire resistant and was used in Roman ship and bridge building for that reason. Current uses include utility poles, veneer, boat building, furniture, and fencing. The pitch can be tapped to be used as a varnish and for waterproofing boats and roofs. The bark has been used medicinally or ground and added to flour. Another source mentions Siberians collected the leaves, fermented them and used them as a salad in winter.
The larch also has a place in mythology and pagan rituals, as well wand material in Harry Potter. Larches may be planted for cremation ceremonies, used to ward off evil spirits or burned to inhale the smoke and promote visions.
To find our champion Larix decidua (E117) park near the corner of Jackson and Oak. The five-way corner at the NE entrance to the park forms a triangle on the S side of the stone entrance with the row of trees being one side. In the center of these conifers is the Larch. It is probably easiest to locate when its leaves are yellowed and before they all fall, making it a good tree to find in the late fall/early winter. The tree is across from 210 Jackson.