Garibaldi Park Whistler A to Z: NunatukWestern hemlock (tsuga heterophylla) is a large evergreen coniferous tree that is native to the west coast of North America. Unlike many other trees in Whistler, western hemlocks don't mind growing in the shade, and their tolerance for shade is only surpassed by two other local trees, the Pacific yew and Pacific silver fir. The Pacific yew and the Pacific silver fir are also quite numerous in Whistler and manage to thrive under the taller and more established trees blocking much of the sunlight.

Whistler & Garibaldi Hiking

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Western Hemlock trees are numerous in the temperate rainforests along the west coast of Canada and the US almost entirely within 100 kilometres from the ocean. In Whistler they tend to grow alongside, and often in the shadow of Whistler spruce and Douglas-firs. Starved of sunlight western hemlocks can survive and grow for many years before reaching a gap in the forest canopy. This hardy ability to relentlessly survive in the shade of other trees and eventually pierce the canopy allows western hemlocks to usually outlive their neighbours. They are known as a climax species as they remain relatively unchanged in terms of species composition unless a forest fire or other calamity descends on the forest. Western hemlocks do well in the long-term despite being outcompeted in the short term by pioneer species such as the fast-growing paper birch. Mature western hemlocks usually range in height from 30 to 50 metres tall and have a narrow crown, drooping branches and the leader, or top most branch will be bent over. The needles are arranged in a somewhat flat pattern of irregular length on either side of the twig. The individual needles are flat, glossy, soft and dark green coloured. The underside of the needle has two white bands of stomata separated by a narrow green midrib. The plentiful seed cones are small, very numerous and nearly round in shape. Western hemlock wood is easily carved and has an even grain making it excellent for milling into lumber for doors, stairs, ladders and furniture. The indigenous tribes along the west coast of North America have been carving western hemlock into spoons, combs, bowls and countless other implements for thousands of years. They also derived a red dye from the bark and used it for tanning hides and colouring totem poles, canoes, paddles and masks. Hemlock trees bear no relation to the poisonous plant of the same name; however, they were named after the hemlock due to the similar smell when crushed. The scientific name for western hemlock is tsuga heterophylla, which translates from the Japanese word tsu-ga, the elements for "tree" and "mother", and heterophylla which is Greek for "different leaves".

How to Identify a Western Hemlock in Whistler

Identifying a western hemlock in Whistler is not too difficult if you know what to look for. They are very different in appearance to the western redcedar, however fairly similar to the coast Douglas-fir and the Whistler spruce. The image below shows a comparison of the three similar trees as you would get from a typical Whistler trail. From up close, they look quite similar, however the first difference you will likely notice is the different look of the bark.

Western Hemlock Tree Comparison

Western Hemlock Bark

Western hemlock bark is furrowed considerably less than Douglas-fir bark, though they both have a similar vertical pattern. The furrows on Douglas-fir bark can be 20 centimetres deep, while on western hemlocks the bark is far thinner with furrows well under 5 centimetres deep. There is also a recognizable colour difference, with Douglas-fir bark having orange highlights, while western hemlock bark has a more monotone greyish brown. The bark on Whistler spruce trees is of similar colour to western hemlocks, however the furrow pattern is very different. Where the western hemlock bark is furrowed in vertical strips, Whistler spruce bark is furrowed in small, round sections that look like corn flakes. Compared side by side western hemlock bark and Whistler spruce bark are easily differentiated, but individually they are not so easily recognized.

Western Hemlock Bark Comparison

Western Hemlock Needles

Western hemlock needles are fairly easy to differentiate from other similar trees. The first thing to look for is the arrangement of the needles on each side of the twig in roughly the same plane. Coast Douglas-firWhistler spruce and mountain hemlock needles are arrayed all around the twig. In particular, mountain hemlock needles are often described as looking like a bottle brush, a sharp contrast to the near flat array found on western hemlock needles. One tree in Whistler that has a similarly flat array of needles is the Pacific yew. The needles of the two trees are similar in colour and both trees grow in the same areas of Whistler, but there are some subtle differences. First, the Pacific yew needles are arrayed in a very flat plane, while the western hemlock needles are not so flatly organized. Second, the Pacific yew needles are uniform in length, while the western hemlock needles are irregular in length, with short and long needles side by side.

Western Hemlock Needles Comparison

Another good way to identify a western hemlock is by looking at the leader. The leader is the top, upward pointing stem of a tree, and on both western hemlock and mountain hemlock trees it will be bent over. This contrasts distinctly with coast Douglas-fir leaders which tend to point straight up. Along with the drooping leader, both western hemlocks and mountain hemlocks have drooping branches, which also contrasts with the coast Douglas-fir branches that bend upward. From a distance the leaders of western hemlocks and western redcedars have a similar drooping form, however western redcedars have a flat spray pattern overall and very different looking needles.

Leaders Hemlock Douglas-fir and Mountain

Western Hemlocks in Whistler

Western hemlocks are everywhere in Whistler and you will find them along the Valley Trail and in almost all the parks. In Whistler Village you will see plenty along Fitzsimmons Creek in the thick forest from Rebagliati Park. Possibly the oldest and most impressive trees can be found along the trail to Cheakamus Lake. The Cheakamus Lake trail runs along the left or northeast side of Cheakamus River and continues along the edge of Cheakamus Lake. Right from the Cheakamus Lake trailhead you will see some beautifully enormous trees. Massive western redcedarscoast Douglas-firs and western hemlocks grow in this beautiful forest paradise. The largest and oldest western hemlocks in Whistler are thought to reside in the vicinity of the suspension bridge at 1.5 kilometres that takes you across Cheakamus River and up the steep trail toward Helm Creek, Panorama Ridge, Black Tusk and Taylor Meadows. Closer to Whistler Village, you will find lots of impressive western hemlocks in Emerald Forest and along the River of Golden Dreams. The Ancient Cedars forest at the edge of Cougar Mountain there is a nice information board about western hemlocks in Whistler. Though as the info board pictured here points out, more impressive western hemlocks grow outside the Ancient Cedars grove.

Western Hemlock Info at Ancient Cedars

Books About Whistler Trees

Plants of the Whistler RegionYew Tree: A Thousand WhispersPlants of the Whistler Region is an excellent book that includes great pictures and descriptions of most trees you will find in Whistler. Small enough to fit in your pocket and comprehensive enough to identify most things you will encounter growing in the forests of Whistler. Along with conifer trees and broadleaf trees the book has chapters on flowers, berries, ferns and shrubs. You can find Plants of the Whistler Region on Amazon, the Whistler Library and at Armchair Books in Whistler Village. The author Collin Varner has a wonderful series of Plants of.. books on various regions beyond Whistler.  Plants of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, Plants of the Gulf and San Juan Islands and Southern Vancouver Island, and Plants of the West Coast Trail.  Another great book that takes a specific look at a wonderful tree found in Whistler is The Yew Tree: A Thousand Whispers by Hal Hartzell.  About as comprehensive as a book on yew trees can be.  Culture, history, modern uses and specific to Whistler and Part 4 of the book specifically deals with the Pacific Yew.  From an extensive look at Native Americans use of the Pacific Yew to a more recent examination of this amazing tree.  If you have any interest in this extraordinary tree you will find it hard to put this wonderful book down.

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Whistler & Garibaldi Park Glossary

 Ablation Zone WhistlerAblation Zone  Accumulation Zone WhistlerAccumulation Zone  Adit Lakes WhistlerAdit Lakes  Aiguille Whistler & Garibaldi ParkAiguille  Alpine Zone Whistler & Garibaldi ParkAlpine Zone  ArborlithArborlith/Lithophyte  Arete Whistler & Garibaldi ParkArête  A River Runs Through It WhistlerARRTI  Armchair Glacier, Garibaldi Park, WhistlerArmchair Glacier  The Barrier in Garibaldi ParkThe Barrier  Battleship Islands in Garibaldi LakeBattleship Islands  Bears in Whistler & Garibaldi ParkBears  Bench Geology WhistlerBench  Bergschrund or SchrundBergschrund  BivouacBivouac  Blue FaceBlue Face  Whistler Bungee BridgeBungee Bridge  Bushwhacking in WhistlerBushwhack  Whistler CairnsCairn/Inuksuk  Neal CarterCarter, Neal  Parkhurst CaterpillarParkhurst Cat  Parkhurst Caterpillar RD8Parkhurst RD8  Garibaldi Park WhistlerChimney  Garibaldi Park WhistlerCirque  Parkhurst CletracParkhurst Cletrac  Cloudraker SkybridgeCloudraker  Douglas FirCoast Douglas-fir  Coast MountainsCoast Mountains  ColCol  Columnar JointingColumnar Jointing  CordilleranCordilleran  CorniceCornice  Corrie LakeCorrie Lake  CrevasseCrevasse  Alec DalgleishDalgleish, Alec  Deadfall in WhistlerDeadfall  Emerald Park in WhistlerEmerald Forest  Erratics in Garibaldi Park and WhistlerErratic  The Fissile in Garibaldi Park, WhistlerThe Fissile  Fitzsimmons Creek in WhistlerFitzsimmons Creek  Fitzsimmons Range, WhistlerFitzsimmons Range  Garibaldi Park WhistlerFyles, Tom  Garibaldi Park WhistlerGaribaldi Ranges  Garibaldi Park WhistlerGaribaldi Volcanic Belt  Gemel - Whistler A to ZGemel  Garibaldi Park WhistlerGlacier Window  Green Lake in WhistlerGreen Lake  Green Lake LoopGreen Lake Loop  Hoary Marmots in WhistlerHoary Marmot  Garibaldi Park WhistlerKrummholz  Lodgepole Pine Trees WhistlerLodgepole Pine  Glacier Moraines in Garibaldi Park WhistlerMoraine  Garibaldi Park WhistlerMt Garibaldi  Mount James Turner in Garibaldi Park, WhistlerMt James Turner  Mountain Hemlock Garibaldi Park WhistlerMountain Hemlock  Northair Mine in WhistlerNorthair Mine  North Arm FarmNorth Arm Farm  Nunatuks in Whistler and Garibaldi ParkNunatuk  Nurse Stump or Log in WhistlerNurse Stump  Overlord Mountain and GlacierOverlord  Pacific Yew, WhistlerPacific Yew  Paper Birch, WhistlerPaper Birch  Parkhurst RidgeParkhurst Ridge  Parkhurst SawmillParkhurst Sawmill  Parkhurst WyeParkhurst Wye  Peak 2 Peak GondolaPeak 2 Peak  Parkhurst Plow TreePlow Tree  Rainbow Lodge, WhistlerRainbow Lodge  Garibaldi Park WhistlerRoundhouse  Garibaldi Park WhistlerRubble Creek  Garibaldi Park WhistlerScree  Garibaldi Park WhistlerSpearhead Range  Garibaldi Park WhistlerThe Table  Garibaldi Park WhistlerTarn  Charles TownsendTownsend, Charles  Usnea or Old Man's BeardUsnea  Waterbar or Cross DitchWaterbar  Wedge Creek in WhistlerWedge Creek  Western Hemlock Trees in WhistlerWestern Hemlock  Western RedcedarWestern Redcedar  Whistler SpruceWhistler Spruce  Mills Winram Whistler Coast Mountains MountaineerWinram, Mills 

Hiking Gear Rental Whistler and Garibaldi Park

Whistler & Garibaldi Park Hiking

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Alexander Falls is a very impressive 43 metre/141 foot waterfall just 30 to 40 minutes south of Whistler in the Callaghan Valley. Open year-round and located just before Whistler Olympic Park where several ...
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Russet Lake is a surreal little paradise that lays at the base of The Fissile, in Garibaldi Provincial Park. The Fissile is the strikingly bronze mountain visible from Whistler Village.  From the Village ...
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Hiking and biking trails are so abundant in Whistler that many go unnoticed, neglected or taken for granted.  The Flank Trail is one of these.  Most people in Whistler don't even know about it, but the ones ...
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Skookumchuck Hot Springs(aka T'sek Hot Springs and St. Agnes Well), located two hours north of Whistler along the edge of the huge Lillooet River. The name Skookumchuck means "strong water" in the language ...
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