Western Hemlock Tree – General Information
Not to be confused with the deadly and unrelated poisonous herb hemlock, the western hemlock is a broad-habitat, evergreen conifer with a narrow conical crown and a drooping main shoot.
Having been introduced to the UK sometime in the 1800s from its native western North America, it was quickly commonly planted for its wood and, being extremely shade tolerant, made it ideal for planting under other trees. in forest plantations.
This impressive specimen is capable of reaching heights of up to 250 feet in its native region, but in Britain, it generally reaches heights of no more than 130 feet, with the tallest specimen on record reaching the great height of 151 feet.
A very vigorous, fast-growing tree with graceful spreading branches, western hemlock makes for an excellent architectural display tree.
Description of a western hemlock
The bark is a dark gray color that turns dark brown as the tree matures. Mature trees have a cracked and somewhat scaly bark, although young trees and higher up in mature trees the bark is smooth.
The leaves are long needles that taper slightly towards the end and have a dark green color on the upper part, while the lower part has two white bands that allow the leaves to breathe.
The male and female cones are produced on the same tree with the bright red male cones appearing in the spring and then turning pale yellow when they begin to release their pollen, while the female cones are a plum purple color. when they first appear, turning green and eventually brown once they have matured. The cones of the western hemlock are tiny in size, and the female cones have very few scales. The seeds are dispersed by the wind.
Growing a Western Hemlock Tree
Western hemlock requires moist but well-drained soil and can grow in poor, acidic, and sandy soils. Extremely tolerant of shade, but also suitable for growing in full sun, western hemlock is also quite resistant to frost, but requires shelter from the wind.
It is a low maintenance tree and constitutes an excellent architectural specimen in parks and gardens. This tree can also be pruned into a hedge and makes a beautiful ornamental ornamental tree.
Although it requires more water and takes a year or two longer to establish, the tree is a much more manageable hedge than the frequently used Lawson cypress.
Propagation is by seed.
Pests and diseases of the western hemlock tree
Western spruce trees in the UK do not appear to suffer from any particular pest or disease, although they are susceptible to the root and butt rotting fungus, fomes annosus.
Pruning a Western Hemlock Tree
If you are growing it as a hedge, an annual trimming will be required until the hedge has reached the required height and thickness, after which the hedge will require pruning up to three times a year to maintain shape, height, and width.
Similarly, like a topiary tree, the western hemlock will need regular pruning to maintain shape and size.
Medicinal uses of the tree
Although not actually used today, western hemlock was heavily used by Native Indians in North America. Among some of its many uses are as a diuretic, for the treatment of tuberculosis, kidney and bladder problems, for foot odor, to get rid of warts and to treat cuts.
Other uses of the western hemlock tree
The wood produced by the tree is of moderate quality and takes nails without breaking. The wood is used for making pulp, making boxes, roofing and for the exterior of buildings. As a fuel, it burns slowly, which makes it useful for keeping fire burning overnight.
Fir oil is obtained from the leaves and twigs that are used commercially to flavor ice cream, gum and soft drinks, among other things.
In addition to providing medicine and being used in industry, western hemlock has also been an important source of food (the inner bark), especially during times of extreme hardship and shortage.
Folklore and mythology
On Vancouver Island, female warriors from the Kwakwaka’wakwa people wore western hemlock in their headdresses when performing ceremonial dances.
Tsuga is the scientific name and means mother of trees. It comes from the Japanese words (tsu) tree and (ga) mother.
Although no longer a native of Britain, fossil records actually show that hemlock trees grew here thousands of years ago, became extinct during the last Ice Age, and never returned.
The wood was highly prized by Queen Victoria and, to honor her husband, Prince Albert, she requested that the scientific name be changed to Tsuga albertiana. Although this was duly done, it was only a temporary measure and the trees’ original name, Tsuga heterophylla, was restored.