Tsuga canadensis (L.) Carr.
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Basis for Listing
Tsuga canadensis (eastern hemlock) is one of Minnesota's rarest, and most imperiled trees. It was rare even before the era of unrestrained logging, and slash fires changed the composition of Minnesota's forests, and it has fared poorly since. The largest reported stand of T. canadensis in Minnesota was situated on 113 ha (280 ac.) in St. Louis County, near the town of Paupore. At one time, this stand had nearly 5,000 T. canadensis trees of all sizes (Lawson 1942). In 1912, about 8,000 railroad ties were cut from this stand,, and, in an effort to protect the remaining trees, a state park was proposed for the site. Tragically, the Moose Lake-Cloquet fire of 1918 intervened, destroying all but a few individual trees that all eventually died. Currently, the number of known sites containing T. canadensis is around 10ten, with a total of perhaps 50fifty mature trees. The largest population consists of just 12twelve mature trees. Other sites may have only a single tree, rarely more than 4four or 5five, with little, if any, reproduction.
Tsuga canadensis was listed as special concern in 1984, a status that carries no legal protection in Minnesota. Legal protection is considered essential to the survival of this species in the state, so its status was elevated to endangered in 2013.
Tsuga canadensis is a large, forest tree, reaching a maximum height of about 30 m (100 ft.), and a diameter at breast height (dbh) of about 60 cm (2.0 ft.). It has horizontal, or somewhat drooping branches, and soft evergreen leaves. The shape of the tree is roughly conical, similar to other conifers, except the leader often has a peculiar leaning, or drooping aspect, and it may look curiously bare. The bark is gray or brownish, scaly when young, then developing ridges, and furrows with age. The leaves are linear, or tapered, and persist for about 3three years (evergreen). They are 7-13 mm (0.3-0.5 in.) long, 1.5-2 mm (0.06-0.08 in.) wide, and borne on a persistent peglikepeg-like base, like spruce leaves. The seed cones are 1-2 cm (0.4-0.8 in.) long, pendent, ellipsoid before opening, and ovoid after opening (Smith 2008).
In Minnesota, T. canadensis is usually scattered in mixed hardwood-conifer forests (a mixture of Mesic Hardwood Forest and Fire Dependent Forest), with Betula alleghaniensis (yellow birch), Thuja occidentalis (northern white cedar), Pinus strobus (white pine), or Picea glaucaPicea glauca (white spruce), typically on moist, well-drained soils in cool, sheltered valleys, and ravines.
Biology / Life History
Tsuga canadensis is a long-lived, forest tree characteristic of late-successional plant communities. It i’s wind-pollinated, and the seeds are dispersed by wind, and gravity. While the species is very tolerant of shade, it i’s vulnerable to drought, windthrow, and especially white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) predation (Mladendoff 1993). The continental climate of Minnesota, especially the cold, dry autumns, may be a limiting factor (Calcote 1986).
Conservation / Management
While T. canadensis has always been relatively rare in Minnesota, which represents the northwestern edge of its range, it has suffered a population decline during the last century and a half. Logging, poor reproduction and recruitment, and significant deer browse have all contributed to the decline. The major conservation requirement for T. canadensis is to protect all surviving stands from logging, and other land clearing operations. Tsuga canadensis is so rare in Minnesota that it has no significant value to the timber industry; any damage to individual trees would likely happen incidental to the cutting of more valuable trees. Therefore, if T. canadensis were found in a timber stand that was planned for harvest, it would be relatively easy to exclude it from the timber sale. The boundaries of any T. canadensis populations need to be determined early in the process, and a buffer zone of at least one tree length must be established around the perimeter. No timber harvesting, or forest management should be conducted within this designated zone.
Conservation Efforts in Minnesota
Several of the known T. canadensis sites are in forests occurring within public parks, and are given tacit protection from logging. The largest known population occurs in a state Scientific and Natural Area, where it receives the highest level of protection available on state-owned land.
Author: Welby Smith, MN DNR, 1988
Revised: Welby Smith, MN DNR, 2008, and 2016