The Larch (Larix Europaea, etc.). Though traceable in England for two hundred years, it is within this century that the larch has been extensively cultivated for profit. The exact date of its introduction from the mountain ranges of some other part of Europe is not known, but there is a popular tradition that it was first brought to Scotland with some orange-trees from Italy, and having begun to wither under hot-house treatment, was thrown outside, where it took root and throve thereafter. The wood of full-grown larch-trees is very valuable. To John, Duke of Athol, Scotland is indebted for the introduction of larch plantations on an enormous scale. He is said to have planted 6500 acres of mountain-ground with these valuable trees, which not only bring in heavy returns as timber, but so enrich the ground on which they grow, by the decayed spicula or spines which fall from them, as to increase its value in the course of some years eight or tenfold. The Duke was buried in a coffin made of larch-wood! This sounds as if the merits of the larch-tree had been indeed a hobby with him, but when one comes to enumerate them one does not wonder that a man should feel his life very usefully devoted to establishing so valuable a tree in his native country, and that the pains and pride it brought him should have awakened sentiment enough to make him desire to make his last cradle from his favourite tree.
Larch-wood is light, strong, and durable. It is used for beams and for ship-building, for railroad-sleepers and mill-axles, for water-pipes, and for panels for pictures. Evelyn says that Raphael, the great painter, painted many of his pictures on larch-wood. It will stand in heat and wet, under water and above ground. It yields good turpentine, but trees that have been tapped to procure this are of no use afterwards for building purposes. The larch is said not to make good masts for ships, but its durability in all varieties of temperature and changes of weather make it valuable for vine-props. When made of larch-poles these are never taken up as hop-poles are. Year after year the vines climb them and fade at their feet, and they are said to have outlasted at least one generation of vine-growers.
In “little woods” the larches are planted very close, so that they may “spindle up” and become tall before they grow thick. They are then used for hop-poles and props of various kinds.
The Oak (Quercus robur, etc.) is pre-eminently a British tree. Of its beauty, size, the venerable age it will attain, and its historical associations, we have no space to speak here, and our young readers are probably not ignorant on the subject.
The durability of its wood is proverbial. The bark is also of great value, and though the slow growth of the oak in its earlier years postpones profit to the planter, it does so little harm to other wood grown with it (being in this respect very different from the beech), that profitable coppice-wood and other trees may be grown in the same plantation.
The age at which the oak should be felled for ship-timber, etc., depends on many circumstances, and is fixed by different authorities at from eighty to a hundred and fifty years.
Oaks are said to be more liable than other trees to be struck by lightning.
Oak-coppices or “little woods” are cut over at from twelve to thirty years old. The bark is valuable as well as the wood.
The Pine (Pinus sylvestris, etc.), like the larch, will flourish on poor soils. It is valuable as a protection for other trees. The varieties and variations of this tree are very numerous.
It is a very valuable timber-tree, the wood being loosely known as “deal”; but “deals” are, properly speaking, planks of pine-wood of a certain thickness, “boards” being the technical name for a thicker kind. Pine trunks are used for the masts of ships. “In the north of Russia and in Lapland the outer bark is used, like that of the birch, for covering huts, for lining them inside, and as a substitute for cork for floating the nets of fishermen; and the inner bark is woven into mats like those made from the lime-tree. Ropes are also made from the bark, which are said to be very strong and elastic, and are generally used by the fishermen.”