All U.S. states have a multitude of official state symbols. Have you ever wondered at the stories behind the selection of these symbols? Perhaps you know that the state tree of Washington is the western hemlock. But how did this come about? Why is the western hemlock Washington’s state tree? Where are hemlock trees found in Washington? Keep reading as we explore these questions and more!
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Why is the Western Hemlock Washington’s State Tree?
The story of how western hemlock became the state tree of Washington is rather a comical one.
In 1946, the Portland Oregonian newspaper decided to poke fun at the fact that Oregon’s neighbor to the north, Washington, hadn’t selected a state tree yet. The Oregonian suggested that western hemlock would be a good choice for Washington.
Of course, people in Washington were not amused by the mockery from their southern neighbor. Various newspapers throughout the state responded to the teasing and decided to select another tree, the popular western red cedar, as their unofficial state tree.
This debate between newspapers caught the attention of the state legislature, prompting them to officially select a state tree the following year.
Even though the suggestion came from Oregon, Mason County Representative George Adams favored the western hemlock over the western red cedar. He pushed hard for the western hemlock to become the official state tree, calling it “the backbone of this state’s forest industry” in his speech to the legislature.
His efforts persuaded the majority of his fellow legislators, and the western hemlock was officially designated the Washington state tree in 1947.
What’s more, Adams’ prediction was correct: the western hemlock truly is the backbone of Washington’s forest industry.
It is considered a climax species, meaning it would likely overrun the state’s evergreen forests if left alone. As such, it is a popular lumber tree, and its wood is prized for its even grain and diversity of uses.
To learn more, check out the following video:
Where Does the Western Hemlock Grow in Washington State?
Nicknamed “The Evergreen State,” Washington is known for having a lot of evergreen trees. The majority of them are western hemlock.
In fact, western hemlock is widely distributed throughout the state of Washington, especially the western half. It is one of the most common trees found in the state’s temperate rainforests.
Western hemlock grows well in full sun, partial shade, and full shade. Young hemlocks often get their start growing beneath the shade of other evergreens.
As they grow, their wide, feathery branches begin to block the light from reaching more sun-loving evergreens. Other trees begin to die off as western hemlocks become the dominant, or climax, species in the region.
Because these trees are so resilient and dominating, they are a good timber candidate that is not considered at risk of endangerment or extinction.
What’s more, the timber has many uses. Wood pulp from western hemlock wood is often used to make paper products, and the wood itself can be used for wooden utensils, flooring, furniture, railroad ties, power poles, and more.
Where Else Does Western Hemlock Grow?
As you might imagine given the name, western hemlock is primarily found in western parts of North America. Specifically, it is a common species found growing in coastal regions from California northward through Canada and Alaska.
Some western hemlock is found in more interior regions, further from the coast. It is a common sight in parts of Montana and Idaho.
Western hemlock can also be found in parts of eastern Asia. Its scientific name, tsuga, is Japanese and means “the mother of trees.”
The greatest concentration of the tree, however, seems to be in the state of Washington, where it thrives in the rainy conditions of the temperate rainforests and the cool, shady coastal regions.
Western hemlock became the state tree of Washington in 1947, a year after an Oregon newspaper teased its neighbor state about not having selected a state tree yet.
Though various newspapers throughout Washington favored the western red cedar to become the state tree, the western hemlock was officially chosen thanks to a convincing speech from Representative George Adams.