Western Hemlock - Tsuga heterophylla

The Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) is the State tree species of Washington State. Being originally from Eastern Washington I have to admit that I was surprised to discover that the Western Hemlock was our state tree. I would have guessed that the Western Red Ceder or the Ponderosa Pine would have been much better choices. As it turns out my feeling was not unjustified. The following quote is from official Washington State government website...

http://www.leg.wa.gov/legislature/statesymbols/
“In 1946, an Oregon newspaper teased Washington for not having a state tree. The Portland Oregonian picked out the western hemlock, Tsuga heterophylla for us, but Washington newspapers decided to choose their own and selected the popular western red cedar. State Representative George Adams of Mason County pleaded with the Legislature to adopt the western hemlock. The hemlock, he said, would become "the backbone of this state's forest industry." Adams' bill passed the Legislature and was signed into law in 1947.”

One of the distinctive features of the Western Hemlock is its "floppy" top and branches. One way to pick out the Hemlocks in the forest is to look for the trees that have the top sort of flopped over to one side as if they were too limp to stand up straight at the top. Also in the image above you can see how the end of the branch is somewhat limp.

The "needle-like" leaves of the Western Hemlock are somewhat flat and do not occur in bunches like a lot of other evergreens. They are about 1/2 - 3/4 of an inch long.

These pictures are not actually from a tree in Washington State but rather from a tree in Stanley Park in Vancouver B.C. that was conveniently labeled with the little plate below.

The Quote "Root of hemlock digg'd i' the dark" comes from "The Tragedy of Macbeth" scene one spoken by the Third Witch. It is a bit strange that this quote is used in connection with the Western Hemlock because the "Hemlock" that is referred to in the quote is not a tree and has no resemblance what so ever to this tree. Rather it is a poisonous perennial herbaceous flowering plant with the species name Conium maculatum. It looks like somebody did not do their homework right.

The cones of the Western Hemlock are quite small (less than an inch long) which makes them a favorite for use in arts and crafts as well as for potpourri.


A similar tree is the Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) that is the state tree of Pennsylvania.

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