The Larch

Larches and a mountain

Living in Switzerland, as I do, it is very tempting to make photographs that depict the great Swiss clichés of neat, flower-bedecked chalets with dainty brown cows contentedly grazing in impossibly green fields; the Matterhorn reflected in a mirror-smooth lake; or the Swiss answer to Yosemite: the Lauterbrunnen valley. One of the things I do to avoid these obvious temptations is simply not to visit the places where such things might be found! The other thing I do is to shun the wider view. But, as the image above shows, there are exceptions. And one exception I make is my annual October pilgrimage to the mountains to photograph larches in their autumn colours. Being native to the Alps (although they can be found further north at lower levels), they put on a magnificent display in those places where the lower slopes of mountains are covered with vast larch forests.

Larch bark: attractive textures

As the only deciduous member of the conifer family, the larch is a unique tree. Come autumn, the needles slowly change from green to lemon yellow to a russet brown before finally falling to the ground. A mountainside glowing in a yellow blaze is quite a sight to behold, although this year my visit appeared to be a little early for peak colour as trees at lower altitudes were still green. No matter. The trees located further up were already showing some lovely colour. But it’s not just the foliage that is intriguing. Larches have bark that is every bit as knobbly and textured as that of pine trees and this also makes a great photographic subject – particularly if there’s the chance of incorporating a knot-hole or other sign of individuality into the composition.

Larches from a distance

In November, I shall be heading to the English Lake District – another area where larches can be found – but it is the Alpine larch forests that most impress me and those found in the Engadine and neighbouring regions of Switzerland are the finest to be seen anywhere. So I make no apologies for indulging my fascination for this most photogenic of trees at this time of year and will continue to seek out the perfect larch photograph. Each year I feel I get a little bit closer to that goal…

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8 Responses to The Larch

  1. steve france says:

    Lovely images Julian. How I would love for a view like these, and to have such wonderful trees to photograph near me.
    Am hoping to get to the Lakes this year myself as I’ve always wanted to go 🙂 Although I can’t decide, as I would really like to do Snowdonia in Winter, or Snowdonia in late winter, early spring next year. Living in Essex has its rare moments, and I know its all about seeing, but man, does it help having something to point the camera at lol!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Steve.

      I wish these views were near me! I have to drive for a good two hours to get within sniffing distance of a larch….

      Errrm, not that I make a habit of sniffing larches, you understand. ;o)


  2. Mike Green says:

    Very interesting – in about twenty years of visiting the Swiss Alps in winter to climb ice and summer for big mountains, I’ve never seen this, though I did at least realise that they are deciduous! The colours are already looking rather good,and I can envision how they’ll appear soon. Thanks for an educational post, and maybe I’ll take myself over the Lakes at some point shortly too, in search of larch.

    • Thanks, Mike. Although both the Lake District and Scotland have some good larch forests, it’s only in the Alps that you get the true spectacle of a whole mountainside glowing yellow… It’s certainly worth seeing!

  3. Douglas Griffin says:

    We have a large number of larch forests here in Aberdeenshire and they are exceptionally photogenic at this time of year. The forest floors really ‘glow’ when they are carpeted with fallen larch needles – my local forest, the Back o’ Bennachie, is in amazing condition right now.

    However, for me the beauty of these places is somewhat tarnished by the knowledge that they are man-made, and the trees are planted much more closely together than they would be in the wild. How much more beautiful it must be to see them in their natural habitat.

    Nice article and really lovely images, too. 🙂

  4. Thanks for the kind words, Doug.

    A soft carpet of fine needles is one of the joys of wandering through a larch forest but equally enjoyable are the twisted and deeply textured trunks of older trees.


  5. R A Lehmann says:

    There is a polypore mushroom that grows on larch trees in the mountains. Is it found on larches throughout the Alps or just at the border of Italy and Austria?

    • I wish I could give you a definitive answer but all I can say is that I have never seen any particular fungus growing on a larch. I’ll keep an eye out for it in future, though!

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