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Tree and sapling on Oba La, Sichuan [V. Dinets, 2006.09.29].


Shoot with foliage and cones on Oba La, Sichuan [V. Dinets, 2006.09.29].


Sample page from Debreczy and Racz (2011).


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Conservation status

Larix potaninii

Batalin 1894

Common names

红杉 hong shan [Chinese] (literally, red fir); Chinese larch.

Taxonomic notes

Syn: L. himalaica (Cheng and Fu 1978); L. chinensis Beissner; L. thibetica Franchet (Dallimore et al. 1967).

Wu and Raven (1999) identify three varieties: the type, Larix potaninii var. australis A. Henry ex Handel-Mazzetti, and Larix potaninii var. chinensis L. K. Fu et Nan Li.


Trees up to 50 m tall and 100 cm DBH. Bark gray or gray-brown, smooth, becoming rough and longitudinally fissured on old trees. Crown conical, branches short, horizontal. Long shoots slender, drooping, red-brown or purple-brown, glabrous or very slightly hairy, turning grey after first year. Short shoots 3-8 mm diameter, densely covered with yellow-brown hairs at apex; winter buds brown or dark brown, resinous, glossy, ovoid. Leaves 12-35 mm long, 1-1.5 mm across, prominently keeled on both sides so as to seem 4-sided, apex pointed. Seed cones cylindric to ovoid, 2.5-7.5 × 1.5-3.5 cm at maturity, red or purple when young, maturing a deep purple, changing to light gray-brown; sessile. Seed scales 35-90, slightly convex, 0.8-1.6 × 0.8-1.1 cm, apex obtuse or sometimes notched; bracts often exserted, purple-brown, oblong-lanceolate, acute or acuminate. Seeds light brown with purple spots, obliquely obovoid, about 3 mm long with a 6 mm wing. Pollination occurs April to May, and seed maturity in October (Dallimore et al. 1967, Wu and Raven 1999).

"L. potanini can be distinguished from other larches, except L. lyallii, by its 4-sided leaves, and from L. lyallii by its less hairy shoots" (Dallimore et al. 1967).

Wu and Raven (1999) provide this key to the varieties:

1. First-year long branchlets grayish yellow, light yellow, or brownish yellow; seed scales ± strigose abaxially

var. chinensis

+ First-year long branchlets red-brown, purplish brown, or yellowish brown; seed scales ± tuberculate and pubescent abaxially.


2. Seed cones 3-5 × 1.5-2.5 cm; seed scales 35-65, thin, 0.8-1.3 cm; short branchlets slender, densely hairy at apex

var. potaninii

+ Seed cones 5-7.5 × 2.5-3.5 cm; seed scales 75-90, thick, 1.4-1.6 cm; short branchlets stout, glabrous or subglabrous

var. australis

Distribution and Ecology

China: S Gansu, S Shaanxi, Sichuan, SE Xizang, N Yunnan, at 2500-4300(-4600) m elevation (Wu and Raven 1999). Hardy to Zone 5 (cold hardiness limit between -28.8°C and -23.3°C) (Bannister and Neuner 2001).

"Wilson records it from the mountains of [Shaanxi] province westward to those of the Chino-Tibetan borderland. It is a common tree around [Kangding] at altitudes ranging from [2290-3350 m]. He further says, that it is a strikingly handsome tree and that it is the common larch of W. [Sichuan], where it occurs at elevations of [2290-3350 m] At its lower altitude it is scattered in moist woods, more especially by the sides of streams, with other conifers and broad-leaved trees, becoming more abundant as it ascends and forming forests at the higher alpine regions" (Dallimore et al. 1967).

Big tree




Timber is used for construction, railroad ties, and furniture, and the bark yields tannins. The species is also used for afforestation (Wu and Raven 1999).


Easily seen along the highway W of Kangding, Sichuan (Kham).



Batalin, A. T. 1894. Notae de plantis asiaticis XLIX-LXXI. Trudy Imp. S.-Petersburgsk. Bot. Sada 13:385.

Z. Debreczy and I. Rácz, 2011. Conifers Around the World. Vols. 1-2. Budapest: DendroPress Ltd.

See also

Farjon (1990) provides a detailed account, with illustrations.

Last Modified 2014-03-29