The Western Hemlock is an exceptionally tall-growing species of coniferous tree found mostly in coastal areas in the Pacific Northwest. Mature species can exceed 200 feet (61 m) with a base of more than 9 feet (2.7 m) in diameter. In young specimens, the crown is a neat, conical shape which may become more cylindrical as the tree ages. The bark is thin, rough and brown in color. The tips of each branchlet will droop, giving the foliage a feathery quality. Older trees will typically have no branches on the lowest 100 feet of the trunk. The cones are small (measuring only an inch or 30 mm in length) and cylindrical in shape. They have thin, flexible scales which are green when first forming, becoming a grayish-brown as they mature.
The Western Hemlock is one of the most shade-tolerant species in the Pacific Northwest and will often grow beneath the canopy formed by Sitka Spruce and Douglas-fir. As other species die off, the hemlock will fill the gaps in the canopy and eventually come to dominate that locale. It is considered a climax species, meaning this tree’s composition in an area will remain unchanged as long as there are no outside disturbances, such as logging or forest fire. It is the largest species of hemlock tree in the world.
The Western Hemlock has been an useful species to humans for centuries. Aside from its use as raw timber, some parts of the tree are edible and new growth needles can be brewed to make a bitter tea. It is commonly used in urban areas as an ornamental plant.
The tree is found only on the west coast of North America from Alaska in the north to Sonoma County, California, in the south. Most specimens are found within 62 miles (100 km) of the ocean.