Essay

Western Hemlock vs. Eastern Hemlock Tree: 4 Differences Between These Towering Giants

Elegant conifers, hemlock trees have conical growth habits and branches that droop gently. They make up substantial portions of the terrain in both Canada and the United States. While there are fourteen species in the genus Tsuga, the species of hemlock trees you are likely to come across are the eastern and western varieties. We’ll go over the key distinctions between these imposing hemlocks and the simplest ways to tell them apart below.

Major Differences in Western and Eastern Hemlocks

The position and size of these two types of trees differ from one another most noticeably. Smaller variations exist in its foliage and usage as well, albeit these are less noticeable at first glance. Fortunately, based on your geographic location, you can probably determine which one you’re viewing because they don’t share any regions. There are still some obvious distinctions between the species, nevertheless, even if this were not the case.

A crucial warning regarding deceptive common names: the hemlock genus Tsuga is unrelated to Conium maculatum, the poison hemlock.

Location

Western hemlock trees, or Tsuga heterophylla, are indigenous to North America’s west coast, as its common name indicates. They extend from central California to the Kenai Peninsula, which is Alaska’s southernmost coastline region. This species of hemlock generally prefers warmer, more humid settings. They tolerate a great deal of shade and thrive well in rocky environments. Western hemlocks are primarily coastal species, but they are also found in more inland places like Idaho and Montana.

The eastern portion of the United States is home to eastern hemlocks, or Tsuga canadensis. It spreads widely throughout Canada as well, especially to the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. As far south as Georgia’s Appalachian Mountains, eastern hemlocks meet their western boundary in Minnesota.

Like the western hemlock, the eastern hemlock may grow in comparable environments. Both can withstand high altitudes and chilly, wet weather. Acidic soils are essential for healthy growth. It can take a long time for seedlings to establish themselves and even longer (up to 30 years) for them to grow and proliferate.

Size

When it comes to height, the western hemlock easily outgrows its eastern cousin. Although the majority of this species are between 100 and 150 feet tall, they can reach an amazing 230 feet. They are also incredibly wide. Its canopy spreads around 30 feet on average, and the trunk diameter varies from 2 to 4 feet.

The eastern hemlock grows to a height of 60–70 feet, however it is smaller. At 25 to 35 feet wide, its canopy spread can be, on average, slightly wider than that of the western species. The largest examples have trunks up to three feet wide, while most have trunks that are narrow, one to two feet in diameter. Eastern hemlocks are easier to work with in landscaping because of their smaller size. These slow-growing trees take time to reach their full height, but they can be grouped together to create a dense privacy wall. If your goal is to have a well-established eastern hemlock privacy wall, consider 200 years from now!

Leaf Appearance

Even yet, the foliage of these two species resembles needles. Due to the two-ranked leaf arrangement of both trees, a branch would be nearly flat with the surface if it were placed on a table. Both hemlock species have shiny tops with two white stripes on the undersides of the needles.

The needles of the western hemlock species are uneven and vary in length from 1/4 to 3/4 of an inch. The needles on eastern hemlock trees are about half an inch long and evenly spaced along the tree. While young shoots of western hemlock have a mixture of small and long hairs, similar to their needles, new shoots of eastern hemlocks have visible long hairs.

These species’ cones are not all that dissimilar from one another. Cones of both species measure around 3/4 of an inch in length. It’s probably not a hemlock if you come across an evergreen with cones longer than 3/4 of an inch.

Characteristics and Use

Approximately 6,000 feet is the elevation at which western hemlocks grow, as opposed to 5,000 feet for eastern hemlocks. Though western hemlocks have more of a “droop,” they are both comparable in overall shape. They differ from the wood and leaves in terms of features in addition to obvious distinctions in appearance.

Western hemlocks are robust and used for making windows, flooring, and cabinetry. As the second most important timber species, it is significant for the Pacific Northwest. This tree is also used by a wide variety of species, which uses it for nesting, eating the bark and seeds, and other purposes.

Although they don’t have as much commercial worth, eastern hemlocks are nevertheless valuable for their pulp, which is used in the paper industry. Because they are tall and may offer seclusion to a sizable area, they are often used in landscaping. Their graceful branches and glossy, evergreen needles are appealing, elongated compared to the western variety, and contribute to the “weeping” appearance. Additionally, the bark of the eastern hemlock is lighter and more cinnamon in colour than that of the western hemlock, which matures to a dark brown colour.

Highlights of Differences between Western & Eastern Hemlock:

  Western Hemlock Eastern Hemlock
Classification Tsuga heterophylla Tsuga canadensis
Natural Habitat Coasts Coniferous forests, mixed hardwood forests, swamps
USDA Hardiness Zone Zone 6 Zone 3-8
Size (Height) 165-230 Feet 70 feet
Size (Trunk Width) 30 feet 35 feet
Foliage 1/4-3/4 inch long, varied 1/2 inch long, regular
Life Span Over 1,000 years Over 500 years
Uses Lumber, pulp Landscaping, paper