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A tree 60 to 70, sometimes 100 ft high; young shoots brown and slightly downy. Leaves 1 in. long, pointed, somewhat four-sided through the prominence of the midrib above and below. Cones egg-shaped, about 11⁄2 in. long, 3⁄4 to 1 in. wide, rounded at the top; scales rounded, downy outside; bracts protruded. Bot. Mag., t. 9338.
Native of W. China; introduced for Messrs Veitch by Wilson from the neighbourhood of Kangting (Tatsien-lu) in 1904. The leaves have a strong aromatic and distinctive odour when crushed. Wilson described it as a symmetrical tree, with rather short, horizontal branches and pendulous branchlets of a shining orange-brown or purple-brown colour, becoming grey in the second or third year.
The Tibetan larch is closely allied to the Himalayan – L. griffithii – and the taxonomic and geographical boundaries between them are not as yet clear. A specimen considered to be the true species grows at Wakehurst Place, Sussex. Planted in 1913 it measures 50 × 21⁄2 ft (1971). A tree at Borde Hill, raised from seeds collected by Forrest in Yunnan, and planted as L. potanii, measures 48 × 21⁄4 ft (1957); this tree has still to be examined scientifically.
specimens: Borde Hill, Sussex, 52 × 23⁄4 ft (1981); Headfort, Co. Meath, Eire, 52 × 31⁄4 ft (1981).
† L. himalaica Cheng & L. K. Fu – This species, described in 1975, is apparently confined to southern Tibet and central Nepal. It is near to L. potaninii, differing in its yellowish grey twigs and larger cones, and having minor differences in the scales and bracts of the cones. It is in cultivation at Wakehurst Place, Sussex, from seeds collected by Adam Stainton in Nepal in 1971.
L. potaninii var. macrocarpa Y.W. Law
This variety has reddish brown branchlets, and larger cones than either of the other varieties (5–9 × 2.5–4 cm), and the seed scales are more numerous (50–140). Farjon 1990, Fu et al. 1999c. Distribution CHINA: southwest Sichuan, northwest Yunnan (south of var. potaninii). Habitat As for the type variety. USDA Hardiness Zone (7–)8. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Farjon 1990. Taxonomic note Larix potaninii var. australis has priority over the perhaps better-known var. macrocarpa (Mill 1999). Farjon (2001) treats var. australis as a synonym of the type variety, but this is not in accord with the original description of var. australis, which cites 7 cm cones.
Larix potaninii (s.l.) is reasonably frequently found in cultivation, as it comes from areas of western China that are regularly visited by seed collectors, and it was introduced by both Wilson and Forrest. Some of the early introductions reached heights of 16–20 m in southern England (TROBI) but most now seem to have died out. It has been collected on numerous recent expeditions and there are young trees in many arboreta. The varieties seem somewhat tenuous in differentiation on foliage characters but are distinct in cone morphology and have distinct distributions. Apart from the type variety, only var. australis is cultivated; many (if not most) older specimens of L. potaninii in Britain have large cones (up to 9 cm long, 4 cm broad and with up to 140 scales), placing them firmly in this variety, perhaps deriving from the several collections made by Forrest close to its type locality in Yunnan (Mill 1999). There have been more recent collections, however, now forming young trees. Specimens seen at Howick were collected on the Cangshan, Lijiang and Dali Expedition of 1991 (CLD 123) and were 2 m tall in 2005. It has also been collected by the Alpine Garden Society Expedition to China in 1994 (ACE 1425) and the Sichuan Expedition of 1992 (SICH 1068). Charles Howick (pers. comm 2005) has observed that mature trees in the wild are not distinguishable in vegetative characters from var. potaninii.
Var. chinensis has greyish or brownish yellow branchlets and seed scales that are strigose below. Fu & Li 1997, Fu et al. 1999c. Distribution CHINA: south Shaanxi (north of var. potaninii). Habitat As for the type variety. USDA Hardiness Zone 5. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Fu et al. 1999c.