What is a Carolina Hemlock?

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  • Written By: J.M. Densing
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2019
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A Carolina hemlock is a medium sized, evergreen coniferous tree also known by its scientific name Tsuga caroliniana. It is native to mountainous regions in the southeastern U.S. and prefers a cool, moist climate. There are several areas of the trees in existence that are known to be over 100 years old. In the wild, it is useful as a habitat tree and as a food source, and in cultivation it is often used as an ornamental tree for landscaping purposes.

A fully grown Carolina hemlock tree is most often between 40 and 70 feet (12 to 21 m) tall. It has a narrow trunk with reddish brown, smooth bark that that becomes cracked and scaly as the tree ages. The entire tree appears to be shaped like a narrow cone or a narrow pyramid. The tree also produces seed packed cones that are only 1 to 1.5 inches (2.5 to 3.8 cm) long with widely spaced scales and an oval shape.

The branches of the Carolina hemlock droop slightly, and are spaced far enough apart to give the tree an airy feel. Smaller branches shoot off the bigger ones in all directions. The needles are flat with rounded tips; they are dark green in color with two white stripes on the bottoms of the needles. Needles are slightly shiny and smooth textured, with a length of about 0.5 to 0.75 inches (1.3 to 1.9 cm) and appear in a radial pattern covering the branches.


The native area of the Carolina hemlock is in the mountainous regions of North and South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia. It is often found at elevations of 2,100 to 4,000 feet (640 to 1219 m) above sea level in lightly wooded areas on rocky slopes or gorge walls. It prefers a cool, moist, temperate climate with moderate amounts of rain. The oldest known tree is located in North Carolina and has been dated as originating in 1677.

In the wild, the Carolina hemlock provides cover for a variety of wildlife; birds nest in the protection of the branches, and deer use the cover of the branches for shelter in the winter. The seeds and bark are eaten by mammals and birds year round. In cultivation, the Carolina hemlock is mainly used as for ornamental purposes in landscapes, with its narrow shape and lush looking evergreen needles. It will thrive in sunny locations or shade, but it doesn't tolerate drought conditions very well.


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