Western Hemlock
Andrea Mojzak

Ode to the western hemlock

The iconic image of the Pacific Northwest is one of large conifer trees—like the majestic Douglas fir and western red cedar. These big guys get all the attention, often overshadowing smaller trees like western hemlock.

Today we’re celebrating western hemlock for its great contribution to our lowland forests. The western hemlock is able to grow in deep shade, waiting patiently for the canopy above to fall—then up it grows, reaching heights of up to 200 feet.

Have you ever seen a tree growing over or out of the stump of an old tree? Most likely you were looking at western hemlock.

The plant’s scientific name heterphylla means “different leaves.” To spot a western hemlock, look for a tree with short, irregular needles on its branches and a droopy top. Western hemlocks thrive in lowland forests all over Western Washington and are planted regularly by the Green Seattle Partnership throughout Seattle’s forested parklands. You can find them in places like Discovery and Seward Park as well as greenbelts along Beacon Hill.

Not yet sold on this awesome plant? The western hemlock is also Washington’s state tree, so next time you’re out and about take a moment to appreciate this great tree that plays such an important role in our state.