Tamaracks are great trees in my opinion because they are a deciduous coniferous tree. They seemed appropriate to write about after last week’s post about why leaves change colour in the fall. Tamaracks do not have leaves — they have needles, and reproduce with cones, like coniferous trees — but they do change colour and shed their needles in preparation for winter.
As with many things it biology, we can’t for sure say why something evolved the way it did. However, there are a number of things that this adaptation helps the Tamarack survive. If you have ever seen a tree branch loaded down with snow after a early season snow storm you can probably see how having extra surfaces to hold extra snow might be a dangerous proposition. The needles on the Tamarack would catch extra snow and put the branches at higher risk for breaking as it lives in areas which have typically had high snowfall. Therefore, not having the needles over the winter may provide some protection.
The ability to regrow its needles also makes the Tamarack tree more resilient to fire, another benefit that my have helped select for this trait.
Finally, Tamarack’s often grow in areas with poor nutrients. By dropping its needles, the Tamarack actually helps to fertilize its own soil bcause the nutrients from the needles will decompose and be available for use again.
So the Tamarack tree is a tree that is a conifer but it also loses its needles over the winter. It is the tree with the identity crisis.