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Cone Bearing Evergreens - Hemlocks

( Originally Published 1927 )



Unlike any other conifer, the hemlock mounts its ever-green leaves on short petioles, jointed to projecting, horny brackets on the twig. At any season this character determines the family name of a group of exceptionally graceful pyramidal conifers. The Eastern hemlocks have their leaves arranged in a flat spray, silvery white underneath, by pale lines on the underside of the flat blunt-pointed blade (See illustration, page 246). An abundance of pendent cones is borne annually. The wood of hemlocks is comparatively worthless but the bark is rich in tannin, and so the tree is important in the leather trade.

The Hemlock

Tsuga Canadensis, Carr.

The hemlock lifts its dark green, feathery spray above the sturdy trunk into a splendid broad pyramid. In all rocky uplands from Nova Scotia to Alabama and west to Minnesota, the drooping lower branches sweep the ground, and the tree is often half buried in snow. But in spring every twig is dancing and waving yellow plumes of new foliage, the picture of cheerfulness as the sunlight sifts through the tree-tops. In May the new blossoms sprinkle all the leafy twigs—the staminate, yellow; the pistillate, pale violet. Looking up from below, one sees a charming iridescent effect when the blossoms add their color to the shimmering silver which lines the various platforms of foliage. The little red-brown cones cling to the twigs all winter, slowly parting their scales to release the winged seeds. Squirrels climb the trees in the fall and cut off these cones to store away for winter use.

"Peelers" go into the woods in May, when the new growth is well started and the bark will peel readily. They fell and strip hemlock trunks and remove the bark in sheets, which are piled to dry and be measured like cord-wood, and later shipped to the tanneries. The cross-grained coarse wood is left to rot and feed forest fires. Locally, it is useful for the timbers of houses and barns, because it is rigid and never lets go its hold upon a nail or spike.

The Western Hemlock

T. heterophylla, Sarg.

The Western hemlock is a giant that dominates other trees in the Western mountain forests, famous for their giants of many different names. It is a noble pyramidal tree that reaches two hundred feet in height and a maxi-mum trunk diameter of ten feet. Its heavy horizontal branches droop and hold out feathery tips as light and graceful in the adult monarch as in the sapling of a few years' growth. The characteristic hemlock foliage, lustrous green above and pale below, is two-ranked by the twisting of the slender petioles.

From southeastern Alaska, eastward into Montana and Idaho, and southward to Cape Mendocino in California, this tree climbs from the lowlands to an altitude that exceeds a mile. Wherever there are rich river valleys and the air is humid, this hemlock is superb, the delight of artists and lumbermen. At its highest range it becomes stunted, but always produces its oval, pointed cones in abundance.

Its wood, the strongest and most durable in the hemlock family, is chiefly used in buildings, and the bark for tanning.

The Mountain Hemlock

T. Martensiana, Sarg.

The mountain hemlock of the West is called by John Muir "the loveliest evergreen in America." Sargent endorses this judgment with emphasis. It grows at high altitudes, fringing upland meadows, watered by glaciers, with groves of the most exquisite beauty. The sweeping, downward-drooping branches, clothed with abundant pea-green foliage, silver-lined, resist wind storms and snow burdens by the wonderful pliancy of their fibres. In early autumn the trees are bent over so as to form arches. Young forests are thus buried out of sight for six months of the year. With the melting of the snow they right them-selves gradually, and among the new leaves appear the flowers, dark purple cones and staminate star-flowers, blue as forget-me-nots. Three-angled leaves, whorled on the twig, and cones two to three inches long, set this hemlock apart from its related species, but the leaf-stalk settles once for all the question of its family name.



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