Seed of the Week: Eastern Hemlock

Seems like you may have been confused about last week’s mystery cones. I was actually hoping that someone would recognize the tiny cones as coming from Eastern or Canadian hemlock, Tsuga canadensis.

This hemlock is a common tree in the eastern part of North America. In fact, it is the Pennsylvania state tree.

The needle-like leaves are short (less than an inch long), flat, soft and have two whitish-colored lines on the underside of each.

Hemlocks give dense shade, cover and food to a number of different forms of wildlife, including deer.

The trees are able to grow in dense shade. In fact, the seedlings can not grow in full sun, so will not return to areas that are clear cut.

There was a seed in one of the cones I took a photograph of, but it doesn’t look viable. One article I read suggested that although hemlocks produce a lot of cones, few of the seeds germinate. In the article linked below, the authors suggest less than 25%.

Eastern hemlocks are used as ornamental trees, but require quite a bit of space. In the right conditions they will live over 400 years, and maybe up to 800 years.

In the past, hemlock bark was gathered for as a source of tannins used the the process of tanning leather products.

Do hemlock trees grow where you live? What kind?

For a map of where Eastern hemlocks are found and more biological information try:

Tsuga canadensis


  1. Karen

    And hemlocks are used for Christmas trees! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    So I’m assuming there’s a technical difference between a pine tree and a hemlock? So that all “cones” shouldn’t be called “pine cones?”

  2. Roberta

    Since you asked, no, not all cones are pine cones. Some are spruce cones, for example.

    Hemlocks belong to the same family as pines, Pineaceae, but are in a different genus. That means hemlocks are Tsuga rather than Pinus. Can you call them pine cones in the vernacular? Why not?

    And to really confuse you, botanically speaking, cones are a type of fruit ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Karen

    Ack! LOL I did ask! So a hemlock cone is simply called a cone or a hemlock cone?

  4. Michael

    now i just read about pines and hemlocks from the “Cherokee 4 directions” and the book said that hemlocks are in the cedar family so i suppose it doesn’t really matter because there all related to each other.

    i would likely call hemlock-cones pine-cones my self too.

    and i think i might have a Canadian hemlock tree i found them growing under a beechnut tree in full shade so now i have 3 of um plus 2 cuttings from a bigger one i found in the woods.

    i thought firs were used for Christmas trees i have never seen any hemlocks for
    sale I’ve only seen firs for sale at store’s for Christmas trees never any hemlocks i think it is a waste though when they take so long to grow then are just cut down to be used as a Christmas tree then thrown-away.

  5. Gregg Doud

    I recently gathered a couple dozen Eastern Hemlock pine cones and was wondering what it the best method for seed germination. I realize only roughly 25% of seeds germinate and that I may not be successful in this endeavor.
    Can I start them inside in pots of Michigan peat? I realize they will need to be kept in shade IF they germinate and that the soil is best to have well draining properties.

  6. Roberta

    I’m not sure about this. Readers, do you have any suggestions?

  7. Geoff

    Growing Hemlocks anymore could be a losing battle. Here on the east coast the Wooly Adelgid is wiping out Hemlocks everywhere. Shenandoah National Park has seen over 90% of their old growth Hemlocks fall victim to this invasive pest. I was down there this past new years and it was a sad sight to see. Mike McGraff from You Bet Your Garden on NPR told me that not only are Hemlocks getting a hit by these pests that suck the life from the trees, the warmer winters we’re experiencing arent allowing Hemlocks to go through their full cycles and this is slowly killing them. To throw more salt on the wound, Wooly Adelgid thrive during milder winters. I live in southeast Pennsylvania and the Hemlocks on my property as well as the Hemlocks I come across on my holes through state parks and gamelands are all becoming covered in Wooly Adelgid as well. I’ve been told that there are herbicides available to help combat wooly adelgid but the warm winters will weaken these trees too much for sustained long term growth. Im not saying don’t try to grow Hemlocks, but it could be a losing battle in the long term.

  8. Roberta


    Many different kinds of trees are facing similar challenges.

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