TAMARACK ‘ER DOWN

THE CONTRARIAN

Regular readers will know that my favorite tree is the tamarack, otherwise known as ‘Eastern Larch’.

Tamarack is a different kind of tree; some botanists say not a tree so much as a plant relic of dinosaur days. Its wood is tough, flexible, and strong – old-timers used it in places where those properties were needed. It is almost as rot-resistant as modern pressure-treated stuff, and most of our pioneer buildings were built on a foundation of tamarack logs placed right on the ground.

It grows well here in the boreal forest, but it is not very popular, not much used, and certainly not propagated by those in charge. It doesn’t work very well for making wood pulp. Being neither softwood nor hardwood, it doesn’t fit very well into the lumber market. All the tamarack around here was killed by an epidemic of ‘Larch Sawfly’ in the 30’s; it is coming back now, but it is still a bit scarce. For all these reasons it is not treated as a commercial species.

What prompted this article was seeing a truckload of wooden fence-posts going through from west to east on the TransCanada. Tamarack makes dandy fence-posts; and I asked myself “why aren’t we producing them?” It is also dandy for decks and docks, no slivers, and doesn’t need to be pressure treated or sealed or painted. Space-age material.

Gordon Franklin was a local boy, grew up on a farm in Britton Township, and became a Forester. A good one, he worked in a number of places around North America and even in New Zealand for a while. With that background he had a solid grounding in what is good about what tree. Gordon’s favorite tree was also the Tamarack. He thought it was high time somebody developed the technology to grow it commercially.

Gordon had a strong sense of community, for example, he was a mainstay of the Dryden Historical Society. After he retired, he went to work on propagating the Tamarack as a community project. He collected seed in the bush. He did various experiments, including some using Osvalda’s oven, and she did not complain. He was successful in hatching some seedlings, and he enlisted his cousin Wayne to help him plant them on the farm he grew up on. Sadly, Gordon passed on before he could finish this project.

His plantations seem to be doing just fine, in fact, tamarack grows quite rapidly. I remember a Forester friend expounding that we ought to plant our entire country to Red Pine, because it will produce the most cords per acre per year. This is probably true in the sandy parts, but Red Pine doesn’t grow at all in poorly drained soil. Tamarack does.

The dominant species in much of our poorly drained country is Black Spruce, which grows slowly and doesn’t regenerate very well. So it seems there is an opportunity for better use of our forest land. Advance Gordon’s technology for propagating tamarack, and plant it in places where the black spruce is gone and what grows now is mostly weeds. Develop a brand or market for tamarack; fence posts, docks, or whatever, and create a new industry.

Of course the last time I stuck my Engineers nose into Foresters business, the District Forester advised me to stick to fixing potholes, and leave the trees to him. Still, just saying.

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