December’s “Tree of the Month”: Western Hemlock

Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) is Washington State’s official State Tree, so designated by the legislature in 1947.

Meriwether Lewis, of Lewis and Clark fame, wrote of this tree in 1806:

“It rises to a height of 160 to 180 feet very commonly, and is from 4-6 feet in diameter — very straight, round and regularly tapering… The cone is remarkably small, not larger than the end of a man’s thumb. Its durable wood has many uses.”

Tsuga heterophylla leaves and cones
Notice the needles of varying lengths, and the little cones about the size of a thumbnail.

Heterophylla means it has leaves — in this case needles — of different lengths, from less than a 1/4″ to 3/4″ (5-20mm). The irregularly-spaced, flat needles are green on the top with two white lines underneath, the branches graceful and feathery. The general shape of the tree is conical, and the very top of the hemlock has a pronounced droop. Look for it on your next forest walk!

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