Hemlock

Tsuga Canadensis

Description:
(From PA DNCR)

The Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), the state tree of Pennsylvania, is one of the dominant trees of the Commonwealth's forests. The tree can grow to a height greater than one hundred feet and is found in every Pennsylvania county, but most commonly in the mountainous regions. This slow-growing long-lived tree thrives in the shade and may take 250 to 300 years to fully mature and may live for 800 years or more. The hemlock, identified as an evergreen tree, has flat needles 1/3-2/3-inch long and 1/2-3/4-inch cones that mature from September to October.

Photo of hemlocl cones Photo of Eastern Hemlock Photo looking up into the crown of an Eastern Hemlock

Hemlocks were major assets in the lives' of the State's first settlers because they were used to build log homes and protect settlers' families from weather and other dangers. Soon, the eastern hemlock was a major contributor to Pennsylvania's industry. By the end of the 19th century, hemlock bark was the major source of tannin for the leather industry. In 1896 in the Commonwealth alone, over 1.3 billion board feet of hemlock was harvested. The bark was sent to tanneries and the logs to sawmills.

Photo showing early loggers Photo showing a bark wagon loaded with hemlock bark Photo showing piles of hemlock tanbark in Tioga County

In 1896 the "Father of Pennsylvania Forestry" Dr. Joseph T. Rothrock stated, "If Pennsylvania were to select one tree as characteristic of our State, nothing would be better than the Hemlock". A.J. Downing, the father of landscape gardening in America, called the hemlock the most picturesque and beautiful of the world's evergreens. In 1927, the Pennsylvania legislature debated the merits of several nominations for the State tree, but no decision was reached. In 1931 lawmakers were again asked to make a ruling, and after considerable debate, the eastern hemlock was adopted June 22, 1931.

Range:

Hemlocks grow wild in deep forests. Western hemlocks prefer dense shade and rocky soil, states the Arbor Day Foundation. The Canadian hemlock also is found on rocky ridges, hills and ravines. The Eastern hemlock is found along stream banks and where there are moist, cool beds, according to the University of Maine.

Uses:

Hemlock trees are used for a variety of things. The Arbor Day Foundation states that the Western hemlock is an important part of the lumber industry, used for paneling, flooring and furniture. Hemlocks are also used for rayon yarns and tanning. Landscaping is another major use of hemlock trees, according to Ohio State University. The USDA also states that hemlocks are used in prevention of stream bank erosion. The University of Maine reports hemlock wood to be coarse, brittle when dry, strong and lightweight, but difficult to work with.

 

Prepared by Dr. Craig R. McKinley, North Carolina State University

 

 

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