Western hemlock

Tsuga heterophylla
Western hemlock Western hemlock

A large tree, it usually grows 30 to 50 metres tall. It has a rather narrow crown and conspicuously drooping new growth at the top of the tree. It has mostly down-sweeping branches and delicate feathery foliage.

Western hemlock leaves

Needles are nearly flat, glossy, and soft; yellow to dark green on the upper surface and whitish underneath. The needles are unequal in length and produce feathery, flat sprays.

The small, numerous seed cones are greenish to reddish-purple and turn brown with age.

Western hemlock cone
Western hemlock bark Bark
Dark brown to reddish-brown, becoming thick and strongly grooved with age.

Where to find western hemlock
It grows along both the east and west sides of the Coast Ranges, from sea level to mid elevations, as well as in the Interior wet belt west of the Rocky Mountains.

Western hemlock usually grows with many different tree species. Occasionally, it develops in pure groups of trees after a wind has blown many trees over. Its shallow rooting system makes it susceptible to being blown over by wind as well as being damaged by fire.

Western hemlock tolerates shade and grows abundantly underneath mature trees, where it provides an important source of food for deer and elk.

Where to find western hemlock
Coastal people carved hemlock wood, which is fairly easily worked, into spoons, combs, roasting spits, and other implements. The Haida carved the wood from bent trunks into giant feast dishes. Sometimes hemlock roots were spliced onto bull kelp fishing lines to strengthen them.

Hemlock bark is rich in a substance useful for tanning hides. The Saanich people made a red dye which not only coloured wool but also added colour to cheeks and removed facial hair.Caution

The Nisga'a and Gitksan peoples scraped off the inner bark in spring and baked it into cakes. A favorite way to prepare the dried cambium in winter was to whip it with snow and eulachon grease.

The wood has an even grain and resists scraping, which makes it easy to machine. It is widely used for doors, windows, parts of staircases, ladders and other architectural millwork items.

Hemlock was named after a European weed which has a similar smell. Western hemlock is not related to poison-hemlock, the weed which killed Socrates.

Tsuga is from the Japanese Tsu-ga, the elements for "tree" and "mother," and heterophylla is Greek for "different leaves".

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