Western Hemlock Tree: Key Facts

Did you know that the bark of western hemlock trees can be used to tan leather? Or that parts of the tree can be made into bread? Keep reading to learn more about these and other western hemlock tree key facts!

Quick Facts About Western Hemlock Trees

Scientific Name:Tsuga heterophylla
Common Names:Western hemlock, coast hemlock, west coast hemlock, Pacific hemlock, western hemlock-spruce, Alaska pine
Type of Tree:Evergreen/ conifer
Physical Description:Large evergreen tree with drooping lead, down-sloping branches, and an overall thick, feathery appearance. Needles are short, flat, and blunt at the tip, and they grow from the sides of each branch in a feather-like pattern. Pine cones are ¼ to ¾ inch long and grow thickly on the tree. Bark is reddish-brown to brownish-gray and furrowed.
Distribution:Coastal regions from California through Alaska, Montana, Idaho, and British Columbia.
Habitat:Temperate rainforests, evergreen forests, mixed deciduous forests
Average Height:100 to 150 feet
Average Lifespan:300 to 500 years (some have been known to live 1,200 years)
Uses:– Wood pulp
– Timber
– Food
– Medicine
– Tanning
– Dye

What are Western Hemlock Trees?

Western hemlock trees are large evergreens native to the Pacific Northwest region of the United States and western parts of Canada. 

They have very thick foliage that often shades out other plants attempting to grow beneath them. Their wide, flat needles are packed tightly on each branch, and the branches and lead both have a droopy, down-sloping appearance.

Western hemlock trees grow slowly at first, often getting their start in rotting wood beneath other trees. As they become established, they may add up to two feet of growth each year and will begin to dominate the forests where they are found.

These shade-loving trees are used to receiving a lot of water. Their shallow root systems make them prone to toppling in windy conditions.

To learn more about western hemlocks, check out this video:

What are Western Hemlock Trees Used For?

Western hemlock trees have a diverse array of uses. Some of the things they have been used for, both in modern times and in the past, include:

  • Wood pulp: These trees are commonly used in wood pulp to make paper products. The wood is softer than some other types of evergreen, which makes it easier to turn into pulp.
  • Timber: The wood of western hemlock is not strong enough to be used in many building applications, but the timber has an even grain and is easy to work with. This makes it a great option for many different things, including railway ties, power poles, flooring, wooden utensils, furniture, and more.
  • Food: Western hemlock is edible. Native tribes have used its inner bark to make a type of bread, and the needles can be boiled to make a tea as well.
  • Medicine: Western hemlock has diaphoretic, diuretic, and astringent properties and was commonly used by Native Americans to treat a variety of ailments. Some of these include skin wounds, burns, hemorrhages, bladder and kidney issues, tuberculosis, and syphilis.
  • Tanning: Tannins in the bark make western hemlock a good choice for tanning hide. Though rarely used for this purpose today, Native Americans commonly used western hemlock bark for this purpose.
  • Dye: The bark also produces a reddish dye that can be extracted. This dye was used by Native Americans to color clothing, wooden utensils, and woven baskets.


Western hemlock is a beautiful evergreen from the Pacific Northwest. It has many different uses, is both edible and medicinal, and thrives well in shady, damp, cool environments. Here’s how Western hemlock compares to Douglas fir tree.

Read also about other forest trees – here are our guides about Black WalnutsDouglas Firs, and Oaks.

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