The Importance of Hemlocks – Hemlock Restoration Initiative (2022)

At least ten distinct species of hemlock exist in the world today. A new species, Tsuga ullengensis which occurs on Ulleung Island in Korea was delineated in 2017 by Holman et al. All Tsuga species occur at roughly the same latitude.

The Importance of Hemlocks – Hemlock Restoration Initiative (1)

Most are found in Asia, while North America is home to four and the southern Appalachian Mountains are home to two of these: the eastern or Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and the Carolina hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana).The Importance of Hemlocks – Hemlock Restoration Initiative (2)

The Carolina hemlock has an extremely limited range—endemic to the southern Appalachians, it occurs primarily in Western North Carolina with a few small pockets in neighboring states. The eastern hemlock, on the other hand, dominates the eastern forest landscape, occurring up and down the east coast from Canada to Alabama, and spreading as far west as Minnesota.

In southern Appalachian forests, Carolina and eastern hemlock occupy distinct ecological niches. The Carolina hemlock is a relatively small tree reaching heights of 40-60ft. It is found on drier ridge tops, bluffs and rocky outcroppings. Its primary importance lies not in its dominance but in the contribution it makes, as a rare species, to global biodiversity. Despite its rarity, it appears to be more closely genetically related to its Asian cousins than its eastern counterpart.

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Carolina hemlocks (T. Caroliniana) growing high on a rocky ridge top

(Video) Hemlock Restoration Initiative- Hemlock Restoration in Transylvania County

The eastern hemlock is a forest giant. Affectionately nicknamed the ‘redwood of the east’, it can live for over 500 years and reach heights of more than 170 feet. It is typically found in riparian areas, growing along headwater streams, in moist, shady groves, and on north facing slopes. Many of the special services they deliver follow from their “shady” character. Eastern hemlock possesses the unique ability to persist for decades and even centuries in the near complete shade of the forest understory (where other trees would languish) in anticipation of the disturbance that will provide light and space for it to shoot rapidly upwards to join the forest canopy.

The Importance of Hemlocks – Hemlock Restoration Initiative (4)

Eastern hemlocks often grow along waterways in shady, moist habitats.

Like the redwood, it has the power to re-make the forest in its own image, creating a particular ecosystem around itself, which differs significantly from hardwood forests; and in which it and countless other plant and animal species thrive. It is also among the most genetically distinct of all the hemlock species, perhaps contributing to its particularly pronounced vulnerability to HWA pressure.

The foliage of the eastern hemlock is dense, dark green, nitrogen rich, and by benefit of being evergreen, available year round. It reaches from the forest floor to the canopy, creating a ladder like structure used by wildlife for habitat and mobility.

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(Video) Summer of Science Series - Thom Green, Hemlock Restoration Initiative

Foliage reaching from the forest floor to the canopy provides important habitat for wildlife.

Hemlock foliage is an important source of food and shelter in eastern forests, particularly in winter when hardwood trees are dormant. The forest floor in hemlock groves tends to be more open than in other parts of the forest and the temperature difference that hemlocks create is apparent. One need only step into a grove in summer to notice its distinctive coolness. The shady, cove environment created by forested hemlock stands is important for forest diversity in a general sense, and specifically, in terms of plant and animal biodiversity in both aquatic and terrestrial environments. Hemlock groves break up the otherwise homogeneous character of hardwood forests, offering a different set of environmental circumstances and providing an island of moist green which many species depend on.

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hemi-parasitic Pirate Bush, an endangered species endemic to the Southern Appalachians

Shady hemlock groves provide ideal habitat for delicate native plant communities. Some plants, like the hemi-parasitic pirate bush which is endemic to a small region of the southern Appalachians and appears on the federal species watch list and North Carolina’s endangered species list, are found almost nowhere else.

Likewise, numerous bird and other animal species are strongly associated with hemlock forests including white tailed deer for whom young hemlock foliage is a preferred browse, and as many as 90 bird species, including the black-throated green warbler, the Blackburnian warbler and the Acadian flycatcher. Some warblers nest nowhere else.

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Saw-whet owl in hemlock branch. Photo by Kevin Shank Family

(Video) How to Treat Hemlocks for Hemlock Woolly Adelgid

The Importance of Hemlocks – Hemlock Restoration Initiative (8)

The same shading, sheltering, and temperature regulating services that the hemlocks deliver on land, they also deliver to the aquatic environments of the headwater streams and waterways that they line. In southern Appalachian watersheds, eastern hemlocks make up about 10% of total basal area, but tend to be concentrated along riparian corridors. At one study site researchers found that hemlock occupied only 6% of basal area overall, but 26% of basal area in the riparian corridor. Hemlock roots hold stream banks in place; and their branches shade the water keeping water temperatures stable, cooler, and more oxygenated—a necessary condition for many aquatic species like brook trout.

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brook trout Image from SC Department of Natural Resources

Their dense foliage intercepts precipitation, preventing nutrient run-off and sedimentation. Researchers have found that streams impacted by HWA show higher concentrations of micro-nutrients like chlorine and copper that can have negative impacts on aquatic life. Indeed, hemlock-dominated watersheds contain more aquatic biodiversity than streams that drain hardwood forests. In a 2003 study conducted by Ross et al., brook trout and brown trout were nearly three times as likely to occur in streams draining hemlock forests as hardwood forests.

(Video) Hope for the Hemlocks

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the giant hellbender salamander, found in hemlock lined streams Photo credit: Robert J. Erwin,

Hemlocks provide water to watersheds, and conversely, take up excess water, making flooding events less severe. Because they transpire more slowly and at a more constant rate than their hardwood neighbors, the presence of hemlocks make more water available to watersheds during the growing season. If hemlocks are replaced by more water-needy hardwoods, less water will be available during the warm months when it is needed most. During winter months when hardwood trees are dormant, hemlocks along waterways are uniquely positioned to take up excess water during peak flow events, making flooding less severe.

In addition to the negative impacts the decline of the eastern hemlock has for the provisioning and regulating ecosystem services they deliver, their loss also takes a toll on less tangible ecosystem services like aesthetic beauty, cultural value, and outdoor recreation. Standing dead trees in forests can pose hazards to visitors and dramatically increase wildfire danger due to fuel buildup. Trees that die along streams end up in the water, leading to large woody debris buildup, increasing sedimentation, and making these water ways less navigable. And, of course, standing among a grove of dead trees does not have the same emotional and spiritual resonance that a thriving, healthy forest provides.The Importance of Hemlocks – Hemlock Restoration Initiative (11)

Like the redwood, the eastern hemlock holds a special place in the public imagination. Its rare ability to instill in its beholders a feeling of wilderness and sense of place has not been lost on generations of poets, artists, scientists and naturalists who have often expressed their unique affection for this tree. When taken as a whole, no other forest tree in eastern North America is equipped to deliver the diversity of services provided by the eastern hemlock.The Importance of Hemlocks – Hemlock Restoration Initiative (12)

“THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.”

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from ‘Evangeline’

(Video) The New York State Hemlock Initiative - CFRP Arbor Day Webinar

Read about the role hemlocks play in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park here.


[1] Garth Holman, Peter Del Tredici, Nathan Havill, Nam Sook Lee, Richard Cronn, KevinCushman, Sarah Mathews, Linda Raubeson, and Christopher S. Campbell“A New Species and Introgression in EasternAsian Hemlocks (Pinaceae: Tsuga)” Systematic Botany, 42(4):1-15,The American Society of Plant Taxonomists (2017)URL:[2] Havill et al., “The Role of Arboreta in Studying theEvolution of Host Resistance to the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid”, 5[3] Virginia Tech, Department of Forest Resources and EnvironmentalConservation, Pinaceae, Tsuga caroliniana, 2016, retrieved June 2017,[4] Havill et al., “The Role of Arboreta in Studying the Evolution ofHost Resistance to the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid”, 8[5] Blozan, “The Last of the Giants: Documenting and Saving theLargest Eastern Hemlocks”[6] United States Department of Agriculture Natural ResourceConservation Service, Prepared by Guy Nesom, “Plant Guide:Eastern Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis (L.) Carr.”, USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center & the Biota of NorthAmerica Program, (2002)[7] H. A. Fowells, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, “Silvics of forest trees of the United States”, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Handbook 271 (1965):608-609[8] David R. Foster, Hemlock: A Forest Giant on the Edge, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014), 6[9] Mariko Yamasaki, Richard M. DeGraaf, John W. Lanier, “Wildlife Habitat Associations in Eastern Hemlock — Birds,Smaller Mammals, and Forest Carnivores”, Proceedings: Symposium onSustainable Management of Hemlock Ecosystems in Eastern North AmericaGTR-NE-26: 135-136[10] Steven T. Brantley, Chelcy Ford Miniat, Katherine J. Elliott,Stephanie H. Laseter, and James M. Vose, “Changes to southernAppalachian water yield and stormflow after lossof a foundation species”, Ecohydrology 1521 (2014):3, Published onlinein Wiley Online Library ( 10.1002/eco.1521 2014[11] Misty Dawn Huddleston, “Riparian Ecosystem Responseto Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (Adelges tsugae) Induced Eastern Hemlock(Tsuga canadensis) Mortality in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park,USA”, (PhD diss., University of Tennessee, 2011): iv,[12] Robert Ross, Randy Bennett, Craig Snyder, John Young, David Lemarie, “Influence of eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis L.) on fishcommunity structure and function in headwater streams of the DelawareRiver basin”, Ecology of Fresh Water Fish 1 (2003): 60-65[13] Brantley et al. “Changes to southern Appalachian water yieldand stormflow after loss of a foundation species”, 1[14] Some examples include: Evangeline, A Tale of Arcadieby Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; published in 1847;Dust of Snow by Robert Frost, published in 1920; “Hemlock” a 1956 painting by artist; Joan Mitchell and “Middle Fork” a sculpture by artist, John Grade completed in 2015


Why is the hemlock tree so important? ›

Hemlock roots hold stream banks in place; and their branches shade the water keeping water temperatures stable, cooler, and more oxygenated—a necessary condition for many aquatic species like brook trout. Their dense foliage intercepts precipitation, preventing nutrient run-off and sedimentation.

Is hemlock tree a symbol of healing? ›

Explanation: Hemlock Tree is a very poisonous tree as it also known as Tsuga Canadensis. It is the state tree of Pennsylvania. It has sacred meaning to adherents of some pagan religions and symbolizes protection and healing.

What species benefit from hemlocks? ›

Habitat Provider

Animals such as deer, moose, grouse, and porcupines look to hemlocks for a winter food source and for shelter away from cold and windy weather conditions. These wildlife rely on hemlock trees to make their home on the landscape.

What is the symbolic meaning of hemlock? ›

Hemlock is eternally deadly, or is a proverb to express “you will cause my death.” Churchyard Beetles (Blaps mortisaga) are also called “the Announcer of the Dead” and were regarded as the forerunners of coming disaster.

Is hemlock good for wildlife? ›

All parts of the plant contain a number of toxic alkaloid compounds, poisonous not just to humans, but livestock and many higher vertebrates.

What effects does hemlock have? ›

Hemlock poisoning can occur if you accidentally ingest poison hemlock. Symptoms can range from vomiting to seizures to respiratory failure. There's no antidote for hemlock poisoning. Your healthcare provider will treat your symptoms, but the condition can be fatal.

What emotions does the hemlock tree represent? ›

Typically, the 'crow' and 'hemlock' represent something negative and inauspicious. They are symbols of sorrow.

What tree has the most healing properties? ›

Pine trees are revered worldwide as healing agents. Any pine, or other evergreen such as spruce, larch, and cedar, will have antiseptic properties useful as a wound wash. The most palatable pine for internal use is the white pine. Its needles and twigs are simmered into a tea that is rich in Vitamin C.

What tree represents healing? ›

The ash tree (scientific name: Fraxinus) is mainly associated with healing and enchantment, and in particular to the Welsh magician/god Gwyddion, who had an ash wand.

Do hemlock trees make good lumber? ›

Hemlock's strength and durability have long made it the material of choice for building garages, sheds and barns. But it has a reputation as a difficult wood to work with, which has limited its use in other applications.

Is hemlock a valuable wood? ›

Hemlock is used primarily as a construction timber, and is in good supply. Expect prices to be moderate for a domestic softwood.

What does eastern hemlock do for the environment? ›

The towering evergreen crowns of hemlocks cast deep shade which are critical for the thermoregulation of cold, clean stream waters for native brook trout and rare salamanders. In Connecticut, the northern spring salamander, a threatened species, requires steep rocky hemlock habitat.

Why is hemlock tree considered as unlucky? ›

Hemlock trees are poisonous. Instead of using a more beautiful tree like maple or oak, the poet uses a hemlock to portray his bad mood. A hemlock tree being poisonous, is thus considered to be bad.

Can hemlock hurt you if you touch it? ›

It's also very toxic for humans. Simply touching the plant can make you sick.” Poison hemlock features white, umbrella shaped flower clusters with fern-like leaves.

Is hemlock tree poisonous to humans? ›

Toxicity. Poison-hemlock is acutely toxic to people and animals, with symptoms appearing 20 minutes to three hours after ingestion. All parts of the plant are poisonous and even the dead canes remain toxic for up to three years. The amount of toxin varies and tends to be higher in sunny areas.

Does hemlock make you smile? ›

The term sardonic grin comes from the grisley practice in Phoenician Sardinia of disposing of criminals and old people using Hemlock Water Dropwort. The poison acts by constricting the muscles causing death by asphixia which also causes a rictus like death grin, the sardonic grin.

How does poison hemlock affect the environment? ›

In grazing areas, poison hemlock can crowd out more desirable forage species, and its toxicity causes serious livestock losses when animals feed on fresh forage, harvested silage, or, to a lesser degree, contaminated hay. Silage does little to reduce the plant's toxicity.

Why is poison hemlock a problem? ›

All parts of poison hemlock (roots, stems, leaves and seeds) are extremely toxic to humans and livestock when ingested. Small amounts can be deadly. This toxin impacts the nervous system causing trembling, salivation, lack of coordination, dilated pupils, weak pulse, respiratory paralysis, coma and death.

What to do if you touched hemlock? ›

Though Healthline states that there is no known antidote to hemlock poisoning, if you think you may have touched any part of the plant, breathed in its particles, or been otherwise exposed, you should seek medical attention immediately.

What was the lesson taught by the crow and the hemlock tree? ›

Generally, hemlock tree and crow are used for negative references but the poet used them beautifully to portray that inauspicious things can bring joy and happiness too. One must not take things for granted and should be open and accept whichever way the nature chooses to bless us.

What is the message of poem? ›

Message is the thing that encourages poets to create poetry. The message can be found after knowing the meaning of poetry. Message or advice is captured by readers as the impression after reading the poem. How the reader to conclude message poetry is closely related to the point of view of the reader toward something.

What is a hemlock tree answer in 30 words? ›

A hemlock tree is a tree known to be associated with something negative and poisonous. The poet does not write about a more 'beautiful' tree because he probably wanted to suggest that something considered inauspicious doesn't necessarily mean something bad.

What tree is the tree of life? ›

Amid growing concerns about climate change affecting indigenous lands, the baobab is likely to resist the warming of the earth. It grows in hot, arid climates and is also known as the bottle tree, or the tree of life, for its ability to store up to 1,200 gallons of water in its trunk.

What tree symbolizes the tree of life? ›

The Norse Legend of the World Tree - Yggdrasil. The Celts may well have adopted their Tree of Life symbol from this. It would appear as if the Celts adopted their Tree of Life symbol from that of the Norse who believed the source of all life on Earth was a world ash tree they called Yggdrasil.

What tree represents eternal life? ›

Evergreens often symbolize immortality and eternal life because they retain their leaves throughout the winter. To the Iroquois people, the white pine is a symbol of the Great Peace that united their separate nations into an enduring League.

How much is a hemlock tree worth? ›

For a person who wants to buy hemlock for construction,&bsp; sawn, air dried rough hemlock lumber sells for $. 90 a board foot($900/thousand bd. ft.). Kiln dried lumber will bring $1.00 board foot and planed lumber will add another 10 cents per board foot.

Is hemlock wood sustainable? ›

Another benefit of western hemlock is its sustainability credentials. It is certified by The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), a respected international forest certification system that provides proof that a wood product comes from responsibly managed and sustainable forests.

Can hemlock be used as firewood? ›

Overall, hemlock is a great choice for your fireplace and makes excellent firewood. It burns hot and fast, so it's perfect for those cold winter days when you need to get warm fast. Hemlock is also easy to store and won't give off unpleasant smells like some other woods might do as they dry out over time.

What is hemlock wood best used for? ›

Hemlock is a great wood that works well with machines and hand tools. Mostly Hemlock is used to make boxes, roofing, crates, light framing, and other sign construction items. It is strong with unique qualities that are so useful in woodworking.

What is the most valuable tree for lumber? ›

The Paulownia may currently be the world's most valuable sustainably harvested hardwood tree. A single 12-foot log can easily bring three thousand dollars. Paulownia lumber is resistant to fire, with a combustion point nearly twice that of other lumber.

Is hemlock a hardwood or softwood? ›

Eastern Hemlock grows into large diameters and its mechanical properties are superior to several other softwood species in Eastern Canada. It belongs to the Hem-Tam (N) group (Eastern Hemlock – Tamarack) according to the National Lumber Grades Authority (NLGA).

What does the water hemlock do to humans? ›

The plant is poisonous at all stages of development and is most toxic in the spring. Poisonings typically result from ingestions; however, cicutoxin also may be absorbed through the skin. Mild toxicity from water hemlock produces nausea, abdominal pain, and epigastric distress within 15-90 minutes.

What is the symbol for healing? ›

A snake coiled around a staff is a widely recognized symbol of healing. A snake coiled around a staff is a widely recognized symbol of healing. The staff belongs to Asklepios, the mythical Greek god of medicine.

What is the spiritual color for healing? ›

Green is the color of healing; it is beneficial in all healing situations. In the aura green signifies balance, peace and often indicates ability as a healer.

What color is used for healing? ›

Green is known to be universally healing. It is symbolic for the heart chakra because green light helps with opening our heart.

What plant represents healing and hope? ›

Petunia. Petunias are colorful flowers that have been associated with hope, healing, and well-being for a long time.


1. webinar recording Hike to Protect Hemlocks 2020
2. Hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) Webinar Presentation
(CCE Onondaga)
3. Olmsted: Bicentennial Perspectives, "A Clearing in the Woods"
(Harvard GSD)
4. The Wicked, Woolly Wrongdoer: Hemlock Woolly Adelgid
(North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences)
5. Virtual Lunch and Learn: Partnerships, with HRI
(Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy)
6. Save the Hemlocks
(Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation)

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