Every fall, one of the highlights on the grounds of the Arnold Arboretum is the magnificent collection of twenty golden larch (金钱松) trees (Pseudolarix amabilis). These fall stunners can be found at three different sites: a beautiful old grove anchored by specimens going back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries near the Walter Street Gate; a much younger grouping on Peters Hill, collected in the wild from Zhejiang Province in 1994; and a lone tree (why no conspecific company?) on the back side of Bussey Hill, just off Beech Path.

The golden larch is the sole extant species in its genus (Pseudolarix), and one can hardly be faulted, with a name like that, for thinking it is closely related to the larches (genus Larix)—especially since larches and golden larches are both deciduous conifers that turn color and drop their needles (leaves) every fall. Nothing could be further from the truth. Recent research shows that the golden larch is most closely related to (evergreen) hemlocks, and the larches are most closely related to (evergreen) Douglas firs. Hence the evolution of deciduousness in golden larches and larches occurred separately and represents an instance of convergent evolution.

Over the years, my regular fall pilgrimages to the golden larch trees at the Arboretum have always been a high point of the transition to winter. A couple of weeks ago, I visited the golden larches on Peters Hill. This grouping is a perfect backdrop to the adjacent ginkgoes. Late in the day, a few flecks of sun sneak through the surrounding canopy and light up individual short shoots against a dark background (59-89*K; lower right image). Left, the lone golden larch on Bussey Hill (59-89*N), rising majestically to the sky, lit up on a crisp sunny day. And upper right, a golden larch next to Bussey Brook (59-89*H) at its glorious peak of fall color.

golden larch