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Facts About the Hemlock Tree

Green tree with red tree image by Lee Mann from

The hemlock tree is a well-known conifer across Canada and the United States. These trees are usually found in the deep woods but can be cultivated for use as landscaping, stand-alone trees or windbreaks. Hemlocks have long been used for their wood and bark for various reasons.


The hemlock tree is a coniferous evergreen tree. Information from the Arbor Day Foundation states there are three main types of hemlock tree: Western, mountain and Eastern. The Eastern hemlock is also known as Canadian hemlock, according to the University of Maine. Other names for the hemlock include hemlock spruce, weeping spruce, spruce pine and tanbark, according to Purdue University.


Hemlocks are large pyramid-shaped evergreens. Western hemlocks can achieve heights of 150 feet while Eastern hemlocks average 40 to 70 feet, but can get to 100 feet, according to the Arbor Day Foundation. Eastern varieties can be found in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 8; Western species are found in zone 6 but can adapt to other zones. The branches are pendulous, and cones are smaller than spruce or pine and more abundant. According to the USDA, the cones are short-stalked, brown with papery scales. Hemlock foliage does not change color in autumn but does have a light green to yellow color for new growth and a dark green for old growth, according to the University of Rhode Island. The bark is reddish-brown when the tree is young but darkens with age, says the USDA.


Hemlock trees are native to North America and can be found on both sides of the continent. The Arbor Day Foundation states that the Western hemlock can be found along the Pacific Northwest as far north as Alaska down through Canada. The USDA Forestry Service states that the Western hemlock can also be found through Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and northwestern California. The Eastern hemlock, according to Purdue University, ranges from Ontario, Canada, down through Virginia and Alabama; it can also be found as far west as Michigan and Wisconsin.


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.


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.


Throughout history hemlocks have been important. Tanning, basket-making, wool coloring, children's items and lining for pits were some of the uses Native Americans found for the wood, states the USDA. Other uses include poultices, liniments, windbreaks and structural support.

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