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Trees of Nova Scotia (Part 3)

Tamarack (Softwood)

Tamarack is unique among native conifers in that each fall it sheds its foliage like the hardwoods. It also ranges more widely than most North American conifers, being found from Newfoundland and Labrador to the interior of Alaska. Its northern limits follow Hudson's Bay and the tree line; southward it reaches into the Lake States. In Nova Scotia it is found throughout; but never abundantly.

A fast-growing tree that tolerates no shade, this species is often forced by shade-tolerant species to inhabit poor open sites such as peat bogs and swamps. Rabbits like the needles, and ruffed grouse and other birds eat the seeds. The branchlets are sometimes browsed by deer. Porcupines seem to prefer its bark to that of most other softwoods species.

Boatbuilders still use tamarack to make the curved bow piece that fastens to the keel to receive the forward planking; here strength is essential. But today tamarack is cut chiefly for fence posts, poles, and ties. The wood is said to last over 15 years underground without preservatives. Most softwood posts rot within 3 years. As a fuel wood its gives off great heat but the creosote content are hard on stoves and stove pipes.

Elements of the Tamarack

Needles: Soft, blue green (turning gold/yellow in the autumn) ; in clusters of 12 to 30 needles on older twigs, but singly on new shoots.

Cones: Upwright, short-stalked, thin scaled, light brown, resembling a miniature, oblong rose; opening the first fall to drop seeds, falling the second season; bearing two winged seeds per fertile scale.

Bark: Thin, in young trees a smooth bluish-grey, later red-brown and roughened by fine scales.

The heaviest and hardest of native softwoods; white to yellow-brown and more or less oily.


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