Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla)
When the giant
old Douglas-firs yield to coastal storms, or disease, or just old
age, the next generation has already begun. Deep in the shade under
this forest canopy grows small Western Hemlock) trees. Where young
Douglas-firs cannot become established, the hemlocks are happy.
Because hemlock will ultimately succeed other species in this way,
it is said to be a climax species. Western Hemlock will tolerate
shade, but it does require considerable moisture, and a relatively
rich organic layer.
is generally assumed to be a lesser tree in stature than the great
Douglas-firs, but specimens to three meters in diameter have been
recorded. Normally, though, the tree is slim for its height, with
the tallest trees, at about 75 meters, having diameters of only
about one meter. Hemlock compensates by being prolific on a site,
and often produces more timber than other species. Native peoples
used various parts of the tree, but a dye made from the inner bark
seems to have been most widely used.
For a large
forest tree, Western Hemlock produces rather tiny cones, about the
size of a cranberry. The needles, too, are small, and the branches
have a lacy or feathery appearance. The top, or leader, of the tree
droops to one side, an easy identifying mark.
Once a forest
of Western Hemlock becomes established, it will sustain itself,
until a natural disaster opens the forest floor again to the more