Western Hemlock

(Tsuga heterophylla)

One tasty tree
Hemlock is well known for its gorgeous wood, but it is also a source of different kinds of food. In addition to offering edible candium (the spongy cork interior of the bark), a hemlock forest is a preferred place for chanterelles and other edible fungi to grow. The needles can also be chewed or made into tea for an elixir rich in Vitamin C. In addition to foodstuffs, the bark provides tannin for tanning hides, and boughs were used by natives of Alaska for collecting herring eggs. Western hemlock is not to be confused with the poisonous and unrelated herbaceous hemlocks.

It is commonly found in temperate rain forests and usually lives within 100 miles of the coast. But it is also found in the foothills of the Cascades and Coast Range on moist sites (generally more than 60 inches of annual rainfall). On these sites, this tree would be the dominant climax tree species in old-growth forests until disturbance such as wildfire or windstorm set back the successional clock.

Western hemlock is a large, shade-tolerant conifer up to 200 feet tall and 9 feet in diameter. The brown bark is thin and full of furrows. Most have a great conical crown, and its pendulous branch tips make it easy to distinguish the tree. The hemlock is long-lived, with the oldest known hemlock coming in at 1,200 years.

Older trees are prone to rot, which makes them excellent sources of cavities for birds. Being shade-tolerant allows western hemlock seedlings and saplings to grow in the understory of  many western Oregon forests.

The climate of this zone is wet and mild. Frequent and dense summer fog helps limit the evaporative power of the sun, while “fog drip” that condenses on tree crowns adds to soil moisture.

Western hemlock forests are among the most productive in the world. In recent years a disease called Swiss needle cast has caused managers to consider planting western hemlock instead of Douglas-fir on many coastal sites. Douglas-fir plantations in western Oregon are commonly invaded by western hemlock and western redcedar, resulting in mixed stands. Thinning is a key to maintaining the productivity and vigor of these stands. Western hemlock forests have traditionally provided pulp for high-quality paper; they are also managed for specialty wood products and a variety of wildlife.


9755 SW Barnes Rd., Suite 210        
Portland, OR 97225        
Phone: 971-673-2944        
Fax: 971-673-2946

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