This section is from the book "A Few Suggestions On Tree Planting", by C. S. Sargent.
The European Larch has always been a favorite for ornamental planting here, and has shown itself well adapted to our climate. I cannot discover when this tree was first planted in Massachusetts, hut in the eastern part of the State specimens, in open situations, are abundant, sixty feet high and five feet in girth three feet from the ground. The largest specimen of the European larch in Bartram's Botanic Garden, near Philadelphia, probably the first ever sent to America, when examined by Mr. Meehan,* over twenty years ago, measured 108 feet high and 5 feet 4 inches in circumference.
The economic uses of the larch are numerous and important. According to Newlands, the strength of larch timber is to that of British oak as 103 to 100; its stiffness as 79 to 100, while its toughness is as 134 to 100. In the most trying circumstances in which timber can be employed, where it is alternately subjected to the influence of air and water, it is the most durable wood known. Laslett states, on what he considers good authority, that" many of the houses in Venice are built on larch piles, particularly those of which the supports are alternately exposed to wet and dry, and that many of these piles, after being in place for ages, are said not to have the least appearance of decay".
At the request of the Duke of Athol, experiments with a view of testing the durability of the larch were made many years ago in the River Thames. The result of these experiments is found in Sir Thomas Dick Lauder's † edition of Gilpin. " Posts," he says, " of equal thickness and strength, one of larch and the other of oak, were driven down facing the river wall, where they were alternately covered by water by the flow of the tide, and left dry by its fall. This species of alternation is the most trying of all circumstances for the endurance of timber, and accordingly the oaken posts were decayed, and were twice replaced in the course of a very few years, while those that were made of larch remained altogether uninjured".
In Europe, larch is preferred to all other woods for railroad sleepers, and it is probably superior for this purpose to the wood of any North American tree. Larch fence-posts are also in great demand at high prices, and instances are abundant of its great durability when thus employed. A practical forester, ‡ speaking of this tree, says, " For out-door work it is considered the most durable of all descriptions of wood. The lengthened period that some larch posts have stood is quite surprising, some of which are known to the writer to have stood nearly fifty years, than which there can be no better proof of its durability." For posts, it will probably equal in durability our red cedar, while in the power to hold nails it is greatly its superior.
The European must not be confounded with the American larch, which, although a valuable tree for many purposes, does not make durable fence-posts.
Timber of the European larch is admirably adapted for rafters, joists, and the main timbers in large buildings. When sawn into boards, however, it has the serious drawback of excessive shrinkage, and a tendency to warp in seasoning, and is therefore rarely used in this form. Its principal uses in this country would be for railroad sleepers, fence-posts, telegraph posts, hop and bean poles, and other rustic work, and for piles in bridges, wharves, and similar structures, where the rising and falling of the. tide require the employment of the most durable timber possible. White oak is generally thus employed, but it is probably less durable than larch, and far too expensive. The fertilizing effects of a plantation of larch on poor, almost barren ground, is remarkable, and now universally acknowledged.
* The American Hand-book of Ornamental Trees. Thomas Meehan. † Gilpin's Forest Scenery. Edinburgh, 1834.
‡ Christopher Young Michie, in Transactions of the Scottish Arboricultural Society. Vol. V, part II. Edinburgh.
According to a writer in the Highland Society's Transactions, quoted by Loudon, the pasturage under a plantation of larches thirty years old, and which had been thinned to four hundred trees to the acre, produced in Scotland an annual rental of eight or ten shillings the acre, while the same land, previous to the introduction of the larch, was let for one shilling the acre. Grigor* calls attention to the same good result of planting the larch. "No tree," he says, " is so valuable as the larch in its fertilizing effects, arising from the richness of the foliage which it sheds annually. In a healthy wood the yearly deposit is very great; the leaves remain, and are consumed on the spot where they drop, and when the influence of the air is admitted, the space becomes clothed in a vivid green, with many of the finest kinds of natural grasses, the pasture of which is highly reputed in dairy management. And in cases where woodland has been brought under grain crops, the roots have been found less difficult to remove than those of other trees, and the soil has been rendered more fertile than that which follows any other description of timber. Already in some of the Western States great interest is taken in the cultivation of the European larch, owing principally, I believe, to the efforts of Mr. Robert Douglas, of Waukegan, Illinois, and large numbers are planted annually, with every prospect of success. In his wholesale catalogue for 1876, Mr. Douglas calls attention to the fact, that the president of the Illinois Central Railroad, after an examination of the larch forests of Europe, and the growth and quality of this timber produced in Illinois, has without solicitation offered to transport European larch free of charge to any point on his lines in Illinois and Iowa, provided they are to be planted in the vicinity of the road.
Judging from the growth made by the larches in Mr. Fay's plantation, which are the only ones I know in this State offering any valuable statistics in regard to the rapidity of growth of this tree, I think we can feel confident that on the ordinary soil suited to their culture, larch, planted when about one foot high and three years old, will in twenty years average twenty-two feet in height, and seven inches in diameter, three feet from the ground; and that in thirty years they will be from thirty-five to forty feet high, and twelve inches in diameter; and if the plantations are thinned to four hundred trees to the acre, that at the end of twenty years more, or fifty years from the time of planting, the trees will reach from sixty to seventy feet in height, and at least twenty inches in diameter. This is also the average growth of this tree in the Highlands of Scotland, under nearly similar conditions. Let us consider what profits a plantation of larch, ten acres in extent, and intended to stand for fifty years, would give. The labor of cutting the trees will be more than paid for by the sale at different periods of a large amount of small wood suited to many rustic purposes, but for which no credit is made. It must also be remarked that the following account is charged with a permanent wire fence, although it is more than probable that any land suited to this purpose, is already surrounded by stone walls, which would require but little subsequent care. Present prices for forest products are taken, without allowance being made for their probable future increase in value.
* Arboriculture. John Grigor. 'Edinburgh, 1868.