17 December 2011

Oh Christmas Tree!

This tree can be found on the inner trail of the Delta Nature Reserve. Someone has decorated it so that everyone can enjoy it as they walk through 'Skunk Cabbage Meadow' - or thereabouts.

This is a baby Western Hemlock, and if we get snow, it'll be the prettiest tree, robed in sparkling white. Hemlocks lose their needles very quickly when they are cut, however, so they don't make good indoor Christmas trees or boughs. This is a shame, since they smell so good. If you squish the needles, you can smell grapefruit, and the needles do contain a fair amount of vitamin C.

People often look at me with confusion when I tell them they can eat the needles of the Hemlock - especially the emerald green shoots in the spring. It's the name - people have heard of it as a poisonous plant. Socrates was made to drink Hemlock - this was how he was executed for sedition and subverting the youth of Athens - he encouraged them to think, you can see how that could go wrong.

But that type of hemlock isn't a tree at all, it's a herbaceous plant in the same family as parsley. It looks not dissimilar to the cow parsley or cow carrot we see lining the ditches in the summer.

Of the trees though, the Western Hemlock is the most common one around here. But we also have a lighter green Hemlock, more similar to the Mountain Hemlock that can be found at higher elevations.

There's only one with baubles on though!

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