What I’ve learned about the Eastern Hemlock is that is was super common in the Appalachia, especially lining the slopes of rivers and river gorges. Now, because of the woolly adelgid, an aphid-like insect introduced from Asia that sucks sap from twigs and causes needle loss and death of the tree, the beautiful and ecologically important Hemlock stands are few and far between.
The Hemlock stand at Middle Way Nature Reserve is on a steep slope with a beautiful stream meandering at the bottom. In the summer, when walking the trail, the temperature drops at least 10 degrees when you step into the Hemlock stand. It’s an amazing microclimate, and I will be so sad when these stately trees die. I have spotted the woolly adelgid on my trees, and I have contacted various Virginia Nature organizations, and Government organizations, and no one is willing to come help me protect these trees. I feel like they are a gem, and we should be doing what we can to protect any stands that we find.
There are pesticide treatments for the adelgid, but each tree has to be treated individually, which would cost thousands and thousands of dollars. There are also other insects that have been introduced that prey on the adelgid, like the Laricobius nigrinus beetle from the Pacific Northwest, however studies are still underway as to whether it is effective here.
It is devastating, some biologists say that many of the southern Appalachian hemlocks could be killed in a decade. This causes other problems, because it rapidly impacts the carbon cycle in these tree stands.
There is another hemlock in eastern North America, the Carolina Hemlock. The way to tell them apart, is that the Eastern Hemlock has needles arranged flat in a single plane on the twig, whereas Carolina Hemlock has needles that are arranged all around the twig. Carolina Hemlock also has larger cones than the Eastern Hemlock.
Alternate Names: Canada Hemlock Size: Up to 100' tall Family: Pinaceae (Pine Family) Habitat: "Primarily in cool, moist ravines and valleys, and along streams and lower slopes of cove forests, but also in mountain bogs, spray cliffs, dry rocky gorges, and river bluff forests." Identification: "A medium to large evergreen tree with a dense, conical crown and pendulous, graceful branches. Needles are flattened, shiny green above with 2 white lines below. Mature seed cones 1/2 - 3/4 inches long, reddish brown, hang from branch tips usually until the following spring. Pollen: March - April, Seeds mature September - November." Habitat and Identification from 'Wildflowers and Plant Communities' Uses: The bark was widely used as a source of tannins for making leather, tea can be made from the needles, the twigs and branches were used as brooms by pioneers, and the inner bark can be eaten raw (!) or boiled, or used to make flour (however they say this is best done with bark from the winter or early spring).