Who Put the Larches in Larchmont? And What is a Larch, anyway?

Here and there around Larchmont this winter, you may notice tall, bare, wispy conifers (trees with needles and cones, like pines and hemlocks) that look as though they are dead. But most likely they are healthy, living larches. This maverick genus sheds its needles every fall, unlike almost all the other conifers, which rightly also are called “evergreens”. These forlorn looking larches are worth watching, however, because their seasonal colors rival the deciduous maples, oaks, and beeches. In the Fall their needles turn a beautiful golden yellow before dropping, and the new spring needles are a soft, fresh, light green.

larchtreeThe original larches of Larchmont are located to the side and front of the Manor House at Prospect and Elm Avenues in the Manor section of the Village. This house was built by Peter Jay Munro, the nephew of John Jay (first chief justice of the U.S.), in 1797.

Originally, however, the front of the house faced the Boston Post Road, which was busy enough at the time to create dust and noise. So Munro asked his Scottish gardener to plant trees to screen the house from the road.

The gardener sent to Scotland for seeds of the larch, which he knew to be a fast-growing and hardy species. As far as we know, these are the original trees, making them nearly 200 years old.

None are left facing the original front of the house, so a number of them have probably fallen to weather and disease.

Larchmont was not so-named until nearly 50 years later, however. That is when Edward Knight Collins purchased the land from Munro’s heir. He remodeled the manor house and named the parcel, which extended down to the shoreline, to reflect the hilltop position of the house and its grand trees.

Most likely these, as well as most other larches in the village, are non-native European and Asian species that have been planted as ornamental trees. There are only two native North American species of larches, the eastern larch or tamarack, and the western larch. The eastern larch is more likely to found growing in more northerly, boggy areas, and doesn’t function well as a suburban lawn tree.

A little more Larchmont history can be viewed in front of the Village Hall, on the corner of Larchmont Avenue and the Boston Post Road. This Chinese species of larch was planted in September 1966 by the Garden Club to mark the 75th anniversary of the incorporation of Larchmont Village. Some other prominent specimens of larch can be seen in Fountain Square in the manor.

An interesting environmental note about larches: researchers have discovered they are particularly efficient processors of carbon dioxide. Vast stands of larches in Siberia have created what climatologists call a “carbon sink’, or an area where carbon dioxide is absorbed and retained, possibly countering the Greenhouse Effect causing so much concern these days. So when environmentalists say, “Plant a tree,” perhaps they should really say “Plant a larch!”