Coastal Western Hemlock

The Western Hemlock, Tsuga heterophylla, is the dominant species on the west coast of North America. A large tree, it usually grows up to 70 meters tall and 2.5 meters in diameter . With a narrow crown and conspicuously drooping new growth at the top of the tree. It is characterized by down-sweeping branches and delicate feathery foliage.

Its leaves are ever-green needles, nearly flat, glossy and relatively soft. The needles are Unequal in length and produce feathery, flat sprays. The cones turn brown with age. Its bark becomes thick and strongly grooved with age.

The oldest western hemlock found to date is a specimen from Caren Range in BC. It had 1238 rings as of 1998.

 

Range

The Western Hemlock can be found readily throughout the forests in Alberta, British Columbia, Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California between the sea level and up to 2000 m elevation in coastal to sub-alpine forests.

It is the dominant species within this range. In low elevation coastal forests on the west coast of North America, it shares dominance with the Spruce; in the slightly drier western Cascade Range it shares dominance with the Douglas-fir.

Climate

The climate of the region where Western Hemlocks are located is characterized by long, mild, and wet winters, and relatively sunny and dry summers. During winter time the hemlock experience the most growth. Especially on the coast, where winds can reach sustained speeds of above 100km/hour, the Hemlock have an advantage over the other shorter, weaker trees by being able to better withstand the more extreme climates. The mean average temperature throughout Western Hemlock's range in BC is around 3-5 degrees celsius.

Vegetation

Other than the hemlock, there are many other species of flora that occupies the forest floor. Ferns, mushrooms, shrubs, vines, birch trees, berries all compete for space under the protective umbrella the Western Hemlock forest offers.

The Western Hemlock - Mature trees; branches and cones - click to see full pictures


Wildlife

The cougar (Puma concolor), the black bear (Ursus americanus) and the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) are the apex species within the range of the Coastal Western Hemlocks. Cougars are mammals of the Felidae family native to both North and South America. Closely related to the domestic cat, cougars are a very capable predator that stalk-and-ambush their prey.

The black bear and the grizzly bear are omnivores that feed on a variety of sources. These three species are competitors for territory and food supply, and may prey on each other's cubs in certain encounters.

Other species include the salmon, deer, elk, Vancouver Island Marmots, and many other animals.

Bears - Adult male; tracks on a gravel beach - click to see full pictures


Cougars - Adult male; cubs; tracks in snow - click to see full pictures


A movie illustrating the cougar in the wild - click to activate the movie and view

Resources

The Western Hemlock is the most economically important hemlock for forestry. The wood is superior all other hemlocks for building purposes and it makes excellent pulp for paper production. It also serves as an ornament in some European Gardens.