from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
- n. See balsam poplar.
from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
- n. A larch, a tree of the species Larix laricina.
- n. A balsam poplar, a tree of the species Populus balsamifera.
from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English
- n. The American larch (Larix Americana), a coniferous tree with slender deciduous leaves; also, its heavy, close-grained timber. Called also tamarack.
from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia
- n. The American larch, Larix Americana: called tamarack in the northwestern lumber-regions. See larch. Sometimes hackmetack.
- n. The juniper, Juniperus communis.
from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.
- n. poplar of northeastern North America with broad heart-shaped leaves
Dad said the hackmatack was a native name for the tamarack (American, or black, larch (Larix laricina)), the roots of which were commonly used to make ships' knees (a piece used to fasten keel to hull, I believe, which had to be very strong).
Hortus Third lists two distinct specific epithets for "hackmatack": Populus balsamifera, a member of the Salix (willow) family; and Larix laricina, of the Pinaeceae (pine family).
Grieve shows "hackmatack" as a synonym for yet another tree, the "yellow cedar", listed under Thuja occidentalis (Linn.), of the (now-outdated) Natural Order Coniferae.
That said, I can testify as a native speaker of northern Maine-ese that in Piscataquis County in the 1970s, "hackmatack" clearly referred both to the tamarack notable, according to my sixth-grade science teacher, for being the only deciduous needleleaf tree and for a kind of poplar-ish tree that was also popularly known as "popple," technically the quaking aspen.
Spelling of 'hackmatack' standardised to ensure consistency with other uses
Our deciduous evergreens tamaracks, also called larch and hackmatack are filling in with fresh bright needles, some white water-flower was blooming spikes out in the bog, and white lady-slipper orchids bloomed right at the edge of the road.
Common names for P. balsamifera include balsam poplar, hackmatack, and tacamahac; common names for L. laricina include American larch, tamarack, hackmatack, and black larch.
Could it be that tacamahac (Populus) and hackmatack (Larix) got confused (the words, not the trees)?
Having spent considerable time in New England, I was always aware of those conifers commonly referred to as "larches", and I always thought a hackmatack tree was some sort of larch, hackmatack being a corruption of a Wampanoag or Massachusett word.
A competitive googling produced 755 hits for "hackmatack, larix" and only 342 for "hackmatack, populus," but that's not exactly a scientific way of deciding the matter.