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Lepus americanus

The Golden Larch

By Dr David Mildrexler

What a gorgeous fall we enjoyed in northeast Oregon. The western larch trees (Larix occidentalis), also known as tamaracks,1 lit up the mountain sides in splashes of brilliant gold that contrast beautifully with the dark greens of the other conifers. But what causes this spectacular color change conspicuous to the western larch? After all, other native conifers don’t drop all their needles or change color in the fall. It has to do with conservation. In this case conservation of nitrogen, a critical limiting nutrient in forest ecosystems. 

Trees use nitrogen to manufacture chlorophyll, the all-important molecule that enables photosynthesis. Chlorophyll reflects light in the green part of the visible spectrum, giving vegetation a green color. During fall, as photosynthesis stops due to dropping temperatures, larch and other deciduous species pull the chlorophyll out of their foliage to recycle into other important plant functions including new growth in the following spring. As chlorophyll is withdrawn, the color of other pigments are revealed. Larch needles contain xanthophyll pigments which reflect yellow light. Hence, the spectacular golden color of the larch come fall.

Old growth larch can tower over younger trees, making visible the splendid fall colors from afar. But this isn’t just for looks. Western larch has a low tolerance for shade. A fast growth rate enables them to rise above the competition and grow in full light. They are long-lived trees, reaching 1000 years in some cases.2 Like its fire-resistant associates, Douglas-fir and Ponderosa pine, western larch develop thick fire-resistant bark with age so it can survive frequent fires. In fact, larch develops the thickest bark of all!3

Most of the big old larch trees were lost to high-grade logging that removed the largest, most fire-resistant trees from the forest. That's why today we need forest practices that protect large fire-resistant trees and plan for a future of tall, old, brilliant golden larch.

1. True tamaracks (Larix laricina) are not native to northeast Oregon (see 

David Mildrexler, a native Oregonian, holds a B.S. in Environmental Science and Resources from Portland State University, an M.S. in Forest Science from The University of Montana, and a PhD in Forest Ecosystems and Society from Oregon State University. As an emerging leader in policy-relevant research, David was selected to receive the 2015 Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science.

Ralph's Links
By Ralph Anderson

We Cannot Save Forests If We Don't Listen To Them
Forests in Wallowa country are under stress. Environmental stress of site, location, weather, climate change and surrounding uses are broadly recognized as factors that result in stress. Many folks don't realize the social stresses the forests are under, which include economics, market fluctuations, corporate structures and maneuvering for power, return and both short and long-term advantages. The aggressive, competitive stresses are killing not just some components of forests but the broader concepts and realities of forests themselves. Many if not most people do not realize how intimately entwined our own survival is with that of forests. When forests are gone... we will be not far behind them. If... we and forests are to survive longer term it will be only with the applications of all the knowledge we can bring to bear, with respect for all the components... and each other.

-- Ralph Anderson
Ralph Anderson, having retired from a career with the U.S. Forest Service and as a consulting Wildlife Biologist, continues to offer his perspectives, insights and perusal of the current flow of science discoveries and its implications via postings on the Wallowa'ology facebook page. The range of links he posts runs from hard science of physics, mathematics, geo-spatial, archaeological and natural sciences to applications in education, fun and play. He tries to dodge the politics of most issues though they are implicit in many of the articles. A common denominator he seeks in his postings is information, a widening perspective, appreciation for all that is around us and fun.

D E C E M B E R    E V E N T S

Wallowology Holiday Party!

Snowflake crafts, snacks, holiday photo op in giant birds nest. Gift Shop will be open.

🗓  Friday, December 8th, 10am to 3pm
📍  Wallowology, 508 N. Main St, Joseph

Snowflake Science Presentation 

Presented by DJ Lincoln. Family fun for all!

🗓  Friday, December 8th, 11am & 1pm
📍 Wallowology, 508 N. Main St, Joseph

Snowflake Soirée 

A dinner in recognition of our Donors, Volunteers and new Founding Members. Small plates, hosted bar, Behind the Scenes presentation, raffle and more!

🗓 Saturday, December 9th, 6pm at Wallowology
RSVP by December 1st to or 541-263-1663.


Quote Of The Month

Oh, you trickster larch
As the pines prepare to freeze,
You laugh your leaves off!

- Dr Karen Antell
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