Thursday, January 24, 2008

This is your western hemlock on acid.

Western hemlock growing in Sphagnum peat bog, Richmond B.C.

The western hemlock is typically the most graceful of the native conifers, with a drooping leader (top branch), long branches that sweep downward, and feathery needles that stick out from sides of the twigs, producing flattened, fan-like foliage. It is the hemlock of the lowlands. As you climb the coastal mountains, you find it replaced by the mountain hemlock, which differs in having a somewhat less droopy leader, relatively shorter branches that tend to point upward, and needles that grow from the twig in all directions, like the bristles of a bottle brush.

Nutrient-rich soil added to bog. The drooping, feathery branches in the background show the typical western hemlock form.

Here in Richmond, at sea level, land of the western hemlock, where there are patches of peat bog interspersed with mixed forest, one notices a strange thing. The western hemlocks that grow in the nutrient-poor, acidic, Sphagnum-based peaty soil of the bog resemble mountain hemlocks in relative branch length and shape, and in needle arrangement. They look like mountain hemlocks -- church-steeple narrow and bristly, instead of spreading, graceful and feathery. In places where topsoil has been dumped on top of the bog (unfortunately, that includes most of it), the western hemlocks are tall and graceful, right next to frazzled mountain-looking bog-dwellers.

Is it the acid? I don’t think anyone knows. Another odd thing, the boggy ones seem not to produce cones. A bog is tough neighbourhood in which to grow.

Another bog specimen.

1 comment:

Wanderin' Weeta said...

No wonder I have trouble sorting these trees out!