26 August 2013: “Ralph, I know where there is a huge Tamarack tree.”
Ralph and I were talking about big trees and I knew at the mention of one he hadn’t seen he would be ready to travel so I dropped the hat.
“Let’s go give it a look.”
My son, Chris; Lucy, the dog; Ralph, the tree guy; and me, the camera guy… loaded our gear into my Chevy Blazer and we were off to Eastern Oregon’s Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Area to measure and photograph what I hoped would be the largest Tamarack tree in Oregon, perhaps it could even be the national champion.
I saw the tree while looking for butterflies during a field trip and marveled at its size. It was the biggest Tamarack I had ever seen. Now we were going to see if it measured up, officially. Ralph was the certification expert. He called the tree a Western Larch… and I discovered “Tamarack” is the common name for the Eastern Larch.
Somehow the “Tamarack” name had also been given to the Western Larch. “Tamarack” made sense to me because to me they looked very much alike… same genus… but different species… and different scientific names. A botanist would reference the Western Larch in writing as “Larix occidentalis” and the Eastern Larch as “Larix laricina.” To be technically correct the authority’s name would be appended after the genus and species but not italicized… technically correct is mainly used in botanical journals but purists will also append authority names.
Unfortunately, my tree wasn’t big enough to be crowned the new champion. In Ralph’s words: “We saw the tree, and it was a marvel to behold, but a champion to dethrone another it was not.”
How big is the champion? According to Wikipedia the national champ is 153 feet tall and 22 feet around (seven feet diameter). It can be found near Seeley Lake, Montana. Locals refer to the tree as “Gus.”
Oregon’s record, located in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, measured as 103 feet tall, 22 feet circumference (seven feet diameter). (Information quoted from the Oregon Encyclopedia)
How big was mine? 120 feet tall and 13.5 feet circumference (four feet, three and a half inches diameter). My tree was taller but not big enough in circumference to surpass the Oregon champion. I would have to settle for the biggest Western Larch I have ever seen.