Native Plant of the Month: Western Hemlock

Picture of Western Hemlock.

Common Name: Western Hemlock

Binomial Name: Tsuga heterphylla

Soil Type: Prefers moist, acidic soil

Sunlight: Very shade-tolerant

Plant Type: Medium to large tree

Form: Cone to cylindrical shape

Foliage: Evergreen

Fruit/Flower: Cones

The largest species of hemlock and the state tree of Washington, the Western Hemlock is a common and beautiful tree in the Pacific Northwest.   Most of the tree’s native range in less than 100 km from the ocean and is of great importance in timber and paper production.  It’s popular as a large ornamental tree, but is also used as a food source; the bark and needles can be eaten or made into tea.  Even the boughs are used to collect herring eggs, the foliage creating an ideal surface for the eggs to attach to, as well as providing a distinct taste.

Though the form (overall shape) of the Western Hemlock changes from cone-shaped to more cylindrical with age, it is distinguishable at all ages by the pendulous branchlet tips, giving it a more graceful appearance.  The small leaves look like needles, 5-22 mm long and 1.5-2 mm wide.  They are mid to dark green with two distinct white stripes (stomata) on the underside.  The cones are also small and delicate, 14-30 mm long with thin, flexible scales.