(Number One) The Larch

It was late 1969 when the BBC aired the Monty Python’s Flying Circus episode “How to Recognise Different Types of Trees from Quite a Long Way Away”. This is perhaps best remembered for “No1 the Larch” and “No 3 The Larch”.

This was a full six or seven years before I decided that I wanted to make a career in forestry. I don’t recall “No 1 The Larch” having any influence in my thinking, which I put down more to a BBC TV natural history programme “The World About Us”.

“No 1. The Larch” has been a frequent running theme in forestry banter through the years.  Those of a certain age nod knowingly.

Whilst I’m not sure I have a favourite tree, the larch is one of those that is certainly up there. So whilst I am always on the lookout for outstanding trees and majestic forest stands, for the last 12 months (October 2022-2023) I have been on a bit of a mission whilst on my travels in the Lake District (UK) and the Valais (CH) to seek out larch; identifying some from quite a long way away.

Here are a few photos in homage to the larch. I have many more.

Mature, reasonably open grown larch forest
Larch forest, Valais
Larch, abandoned bridge over abandoned canal
Alongside the (remains of the) Lancaster to Kendal canal

There are plenty of pioneer larch in the Lake District clinging to hillsides, and establishing themselves in stony poor soil.

Pioneer larch on rocky limestone scar
Pioneer Larch on Scout Scar near Kendal
Mature larch, alone in a valley surrounded by fells, scree
Lone larch beneath Great Gable, Wasdale
Mature larch on Cunswick Scar. Poor limestone soils
Mature larch on Cunswick Scar, near Kendal

The oldest larch in Europe are to be found in the Valais in Switzerland. A few are located in a larch and spruce forest above Vernamiège and said to be over 920 years old. A larger group, between 850 and 1000 years old, are located above Nendaz, where a ski lift bisects them. Being open grown, they have a high form factor and gnarly appearance. You can still recognise them from quite a long way away.

+/-900 year old larch tree in a forest of larch and spruce in the Valais
One of the oldest larch trees in Europe. In a forest above Vernamiège, Valais
Detail on a traditionally built wood building, several hundred years old
The wood weathers well. Evolène
Open grown larch at Balavaux. Large wound at the base with a person stood inside gives scale
One of the Balavaux Larches. My friend Mark stood in the opening of the trunk for scale
Gnarly base to a larch gives a large diameter at the base
A gnarly larch at Balavaux
View looking up the trunk to the crown. Strong branches. Thick bark
Balavaux larch. Looking up into the crown.

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