The hemlock is one of the iconic trees that you see in the Smokies. Covering the sides of the Smoky Mountains on both side of the state line, the hemlock forest are evergreens that keep their color and vibrancy throughout the year. Unfortunately the hemlocks in the Smokies are under an invasion from the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid.
Classification: Plantae – Pinophyta – Pinopsida – Pinales – Pinaceae – Tsuga – Caroliniania
The hemlock is a medium to large sized tree of the evergreen species. The needles are relatively short and the cones that they produce to pollinate the species are very small (3-4 millimeters). The hemlock groves in the mountains thrive due to the conditions in the mountains. The higher elevation and the moist climate are perfect for the hemlock to spread. Larger hemlocks, because they don’t lose their leaves are the perfect shelter for small animals, both mammals and birds.
During the heyday of the lumber industry in the Smokies the hemlocks were a prized tree. The soft wood of the hemlock was used in pulping for the paper industry. Before this point the bark of the hemlock was used in the tanning process for leather and the needles were used to brew a tea that helped with indigestion.
The hemlock ranges from the top of the mountain peaks in the Smokies to the lowest elevations. Mostly, when you find one hemlock tree in the park you will see lots of others as they tend to form small groves.
At the time of this writing, the hemlock grove sin the Smokies are under attack by the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid. This nonnative insect is a sap-sucking bug that keeps the tree from getting nutrients to the leaves. As the leaves die, the tree starts to take on a grey-cast. Once the leaves die, the tree stops being able to photosynthesize the sunlight that it uses to live and the tree dies. The national Park Service is working to save the hemlock grove and exterminate the Adelgid that is causes the harm to this magnificent trees.