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Syracuse, New York
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Special Topics

Evergreen Identification

Hemlock (Tsuga)

Would you really want to plant something that gets as big as the Canadian hemlock in this picture within feet of the corner of your home?Canadian (or eastern) hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) are planted at the corners of many Central New York homes (at right) - even as they can be found growing to heights approaching one hundred feet in Green Lakes State Park just east of the village of Fayetteville.

Hemlock are quite tolerant of annual shearing to retain a manageable size - if started when the plants are very young, that is. However, looking at the very top of the hemlock below it appears that it's finally escaped the bounds of annual shearing!

This hemlock has finally outgrown the practical limits of annual shearing.Like yews, the needles of hemlock are flat and attached individually to the branch. What sets them apart from yews, however, is that they have two distinct, creamy-white bands running the length of the underside of each needle. Also, their needles are rarely more than one-half inch in length, and they're attached to the stem by a tiny "stem" (technically a "petiole"). Note the small stem/petiole at the base of the hemlock needle, at right in the picture below, as compared to the fraser fir needle, at left in the picture below.

Note the small stem at the base of the hemlock needle, at right, as compared to the fraser fir needle at left.Any small, coniferous evergreen shrub in Central New York landscapes that has a flat needle with white stripes is almost certainly a hemlock. In their tree form, however, it might be possible to confuse them with balsam or fraser fir, though not very likely as firs are not that common in landscape plantings.