This coming week we look for bright yellow leaves on ginkgo trees, the brown-and-yellow foliage of the American beech, golden yellows on Norway maples, and fiery red on the winged euonymus, or burning bush. Of course, too, there is the smoky-gold foliage on native tamaracks. I think more people should plant trees and shrubs in their yards with the thought of extending and intensifying the fall color season.
About 47 years ago we planted in our yard a tamarack, also called the American larch, and have enjoyed its presence since. This tree and the ones growing in swamps and bogs in the Lake Minnetonka area are now displaying their golden-yellow foliage. The needlelike leaves will fall soon because the tamarack is a deciduous conifer. Its branches will be bare until next spring. The soft, flexible needles, which are bright green during the growing season, are unique. They are a half to 1 ¼-inches long and grow in clusters of 20 to 40 on wood from previous years or singly on new shoots.
The tamarack is abundant in the coniferous forest region in Minnesota, chiefly in bogs and seen with black spruce. It is sometimes found in upland areas, where it grows larger. The broad, shallow root system is adapted to swamp and bog ground, and yet the best growth is in well-drained soils. The slender, straight tree is seldom more than 50 to 60 feet, with a trunk of up to about 1 ½ feet in diameter. Young trees and those crowded together form narrow, conical heads with short, horizontal branches. Older trees, or those in the open, form broader crowns.
Jim Gilbert’s observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.