WNC Nature Center Notes: Oh evergreen, oh evergreen!
Evergreens are an iconic tree this time of year, whether displaying our ornaments on a Fraser fir or seeing the only splash of green among a sea of bare trees. One of Western North Carolina’s most iconic evergreens is the eastern hemlock.
The eastern hemlock is a beautiful evergreen tree that can grow extremely large and live a very, very long time. The oldest known hemlock tree is 554 years old. Most hemlocks can reach heights of over 100 feet. They tend to grow well in shaded areas and can be found along rivers.
Because of their size and foliage, hemlocks are an incredible asset to wildlife. They provide shade over rivers, which cools the water, allowing many fish and salamander species to thrive. Many animals depend on hemlock foliage during the wintertime. Over 80 species of birds nest in hemlocks, including a few species of warblers that will nest nowhere else.
Normally an extremely hardy species, the hemlock has been facing a relatively new challenge: the introduction of the hemlock woolly adelgid. This aphid-like species sucks the sap of the hemlock tree. The parasite appears on the tips of hemlock branches and looks like white fluff. Woolly adelgid has been killing hemlocks at an alarming rate, which is negatively impacting other plant and animal species that rely on the hemlock for survival. There is hope, however. Trees can be treated with pesticides every 5 years. These pesticides are inexpensive and can be found at your local hardware store. Researchers are also experimenting with using beetles that eat woolly adelgid. Non-profits such as Asheville’s Hemlock Restoration Initiative is working tirelessly to help save these beautiful trees. If you would like to help save hemlocks, consider volunteering with HRI.
Learn more at savehemlocksnc.org.