In honour of the tamarack

By Marilyn Latta, Nature Manitoba.

I am Tamarack. The Algonquian people gave me this name which means “wood used for snowshoes”. Others used the name hackmatack. Larch is another one of my names and you might know me as Eastern, Alaskan, American, Black or Red Larch.

I once was much honoured and played an important role in the lives of the indigenous people. I supplied tough flexible wood for snowshoes in winter and my roots were used to sew their birch bark canoes together for summer travel. I was used medicinally for a variety of problems and body imbalances. Tannins were extracted from my bark and used to tan leather. Later, my decay-resistant wood was used for railway ties, poles, posts and pilings and even mouse-proof floors. Ship builders prized my roots for joining ribs to the deck timbers. Today, many of these uses have been forgotten or are no longer important. The plastic and synthetics of today’s world have replaced many of my roles and I am now largely ignored and forgotten.

Times have been difficult recently. The landscape has been altered in many places and habitat loss and drainage have made the land less favorable for me to thrive. Insects and disease have caused much stress. Some of these are new while others have always been here, but the balance seems to have been lost and I struggle more to be strong and healthy.

I still try to be a vibrant part of the landscape. Tamarack bogs are a quiet place of wonder and beauty. The Great Gray Owl makes its home in my domain, ever watchful for the sight and sound of small mammals that will sustain it and its young. The owls’ haunting calls seep through my limbs and wash over the landscape – a remote and eerie place to be on a moonlit night. Come, listen to the mysterious sounds of the wild. Listen to the wind sigh through my branches. Open your ears and hear the drums beat and remember how wise, strong and glorious I once was. Pause and pay respect to my ancestors and me.

Tamarack Troubles

Tamarack trees (Larix laricina) are deciduous conifers that can be found in bogs and wet habitats through most of the forested regions… Read more.