Tsuga heterophylla (Raf.) Sarg.
Pinaceae (Pine Family)
USDA Symbol: TSHE
Western Hemlock is a graceful, Pacific Coast evergreen with a narrow, pyramidal crown; semi-pendulous branches; red-brown, scaly bark; and fine-textured, dark-green needles. The tree may reach 200 ft. in nature; 100 ft. in cultivation. Cones are small and numerous. The largest hemlock, with long, slender, often fluted trunk; narrow, conical crown of short, slender, horizontal or slightly drooping branches; and very slender, curved and drooping leader.
Western Hemlock is one of the most common trees in the Pacific Northwest, forming vast, dense groves. This important timber species is one of the best pulpwoods and a source of alpha cellulose for making cellophane, rayon yarns, and plastics. Indians of southeastern Alaska used to make coarse bread from the inner bark.
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Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial
Leaf Retention: Evergreen
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Monoecious
Fruit Type: Cone
Size Notes: Up to about 200 feet tall. Often much shorter.
Bloom InformationBloom Color: Yellow , Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Apr , May , Jun
Bloom Notes: Flowers inconspicuous. Bloom color refers to cones. Bloom time refers to coning period.
DistributionUSA: AK , CA , ID , MT , OR , WA
Canada: AB , BC
Native Distribution: AK to n.w. CA, e. to MT
Native Habitat: Moist, alluvial areas; wooded slopes below 2000 ft.
Growing ConditionsWater Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist , Wet
CaCO3 Tolerance: None
Soil Description: Moist to mesic soils.
Conditions Comments: Western hemlock responds best in areas with high humidity and low summer temperatures. Seedlings do well in shade.
BenefitUse Other: Quileute used a hemlock-bark solution for tanning hides and soaking spruce-root baskets to make them water tight. (pojar/mackinnon)
Some Coast Squalish people used a red dye made from hemlock bark to colour mountain-goat wool and basket materials, and as a facial cosmetic and hair remover. (pojar/mackinnon)
Kwakwaka'wakw steeped bark in urine to make a black dye. Nuxalk, Chehalis and others used the bark steeped in water to colour fish nets brown, making them invisible to fish. (pojar/mackinnon)
Snohomish used the dye to colour basket materials. A yellow-orange paint was prepared by the Quinault from mashed hemlock bark mixed with salmon eggs; this was used to colour dip-nets and paddles. (pojar/mackinnon).
Wood carved into spoons, roasting spits, dip-nets poles, combs, spearshafts, wedges, childrens's bows and elderberry picking hooks. Haida made large feast bowls from bent trees. Nisga'a used hemlock twigs to form the rims of birch-bark baskets. (pojar/makinnon)
Coast Salish and Nuu-chah-nulth used the bows for collecting herring spawn to be eaten fresh or dried. Mainland Comox used the boughs for lining steaming pits. Kwakwaka'wakw dancers wore skirts, headdresses, and head-bands of hemlock boughs, and young women lived in hemlock-bough huts for four days after their first menstruation. (pojar/makinnon)
Medicinal: Used by most groups on the Northwest Coast. Hemlock pitch was applied topically for a variety of purposes, including poultices or poultice coverings, linaments rubbed on the chest for colds and when mixed with deer tallow as a salve to prevent sunburn. The Nuu-chah-nulth drank a hemlock-bark tea, sometimes mixed with bark of cascara and red alder, for internal injuries and haemorrhaging. (pojar/mackinnon)
Food: The inner bark of hemlock was eaten by Haida, Tsimshian, Nuxlk and other central and northern coastal peoples. Ditidaht hunters and other travellers sometimes chewed on the young branch-tips of hemlock as a hunger suppressant when they were without food. (pojar/mackinnon)
Fragrant Foliage: yes
PropagationDescription: Layering has proven successful, as has propagation by seed and cuttings. Cuttings must be treated and kept under mist.
Seed Collection: Cones mature in one season.
Commercially Avail: yes
Find Seed or Plants
View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.
National Wetland Indicator Status
From the National Organizations DirectoryAccording to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden - Santa Barbara, CA
Web ReferenceWebref 62 - Burke Herbarium Image Collection (2020) University of Washington
Webref 30 - Calflora (2018) Calflora
Webref 38 - Flora of North America (2019) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
Webref 23 - Southwest Environmental Information Network (2009) SEINet - Arizona Chapter
Additional resourcesUSDA: Find Tsuga heterophylla in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Tsuga heterophylla in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Tsuga heterophylla
MetadataRecord Modified: 2023-06-12
Research By: TWC Staff