Mockery from an Oregon newspaper prompted Washington to select its state tree in 1947. The previous year, The Oregonian had chided Oregon’s neighboring state for not having an official tree, and decided the western hemlock would be a good choice as the state tree of Washington. Irritated by Oregon’s presumptuousness, newspapers in Washington bristled at the suggestion and made a selection of their own, the western red cedar. George Adams, a Washington state representative, favored the western hemlock despite the fact the suggestion had come from Oregon, and he persuaded fellow legislators to agree with him and make the western hemlock the state tree of Washington.
The state tree of Washington is the largest variety of hemlock, and it is also known as Tsuga heterophylla. This tree is long-lived, and discoveries have been made of some 1,200-year-old western hemlocks. It has been known to reach almost 256 feet (78 meters), but usually averages 164 feet (about 50 meters) to almost 230 feet (about 70 meters). Along the west coast, its native range extends from California to Alaska, and its habitat extends to Montana in the east.
The western hemlock is a native species in the Pacific Northwest, where it grows quickly. The state tree of Washington can also grow on the east coast of the United States, but in this area its growth is slower. It is a significant source of timber in the northwest. This tree has the advantage over some other hemlock trees in that it can usually withstand an insect pest known as the woolly adelgid. This insect can damage other types of trees in this family, including the Carolina hemlock and the Canadian hemlock.
Coast hemlock, pacific hemlock, lowland hemlock, and west coast hemlock are all alternate names for the state tree of Washington. Native Americans called the Salish used its bark to make a red dye. They used it for cosmetic purposes as well as to dye baskets and tint wool, the wood for combs and eating utensils. Native Americans also used the shoots and leaves to concoct a tea. Today the wood of the western hemlock is used for railroad ties, poles and construction.