Western Hemlock tree identification

The Western Hemlock Tsuga heterophylla, a conifer native to the Pacific Northwest rainforest, was introduced to Britain in 1851. There are 10 species of Hemlocks worldwide, but this is the one you are most likely to see. They are found in North America and South and South East Asia. The trees are called Hemlocks because, when crushed, the needles release a smell similar to that released by the poisonous herb Hemlock. The latin family name Tsuga is Japanese for Hemlock. The Western Hemlock tree has been planted frequently in large gardens and plantations and can be very impressive. The scientific name heterophylla refers to its mix of long and short needles. Its drooping shoots distinguish it from all other Hemlocks. The Eastern Hemlock found in Eastern North America is less common in Britain and is not found in forestry plantations.

Western Hemlock tree identification – conifer with drooping shoots, random short and long needles, many small, hanging cones. It has flat rows of needles and a drooping appearance and may look like a Norway Spruce.

Western Hemlock mature tree

Mature Western Hemlock showing the drooping shoots.

Western Hemlock leaves

The needles are arranged randomly in 2 rows on either side of the shoot. Needles in the upper row are half the length of those in the lower row.

Western Hemlock leaves

Each needle has 2 broad white bands underneath.

Western Hemlock leaves

The needles of different length are crowded together randomly along the shoot.

Western Hemlock open cones

Open cones in January

Western Hemlock cones

Cones hang from the ends of drooping branches

Western Hemlock cones

Cones in May

Western Hemlock  bark

The bark is purple-brown and ridged