Hemlocks at the NCFS Linville Tree Nursery

You may know that in the last couple years the NC Forest Service has been growing hemlocks from seed in great numbers in order to establish protocols for future production of hemlock strains that can be used for large scale forest restoration. This requires that they collect thousands of cones each year. Unfortunately this year appears to be a light cone year for eastern and Carolina hemlocks in western North Carolina, so NCFS staff have asked us to put out the call for hemlock cones.

Even though this may be light cone year overall, it is not unusual for individual trees to bear heavily or groups of trees in an area to do the same. We could use your help locating any trees that might be bearing this year in an effort to collect seed. This is something that is somewhat time sensitive in that the time to collect those cones is fast approaching within the next couple of weeks or so. If you know of any Carolina or eastern Hemlock that are bearing cones this year, we would be greatly appreciative if you let us know about them and if they can be collected. I have included information below to help you determine if your trees have the cones we are looking for. If you trees have the cones that match the description below, but you are not able to collect them yourself, we may be able to send someone out to collect them. Please review the information below and contact us if you have cones that are not yet or almost ready for collecting, and we will provide more information and instructions.

  • Tree selection. The trees can be eastern or Carolina, yard or forest, treated or untreated. Just be sure they are one of those two hemlock species. If you have both species producing cones, the collections will need to be kept separate and labeled appropriately.
  • Accessibility. We are only interested in trees where we have permission or could obtain permission to collect the cones. The cones should be reachable from the ground, with ladders or using a bucket lift on a truck. Hedges are ideal if they have cones because they are easier to collect from the ground. In order to use a lift, the trees need to be on areas that are relatively flat and accessible to a truck. Even if we can’t collect on them this year it would be good to know where locations are for potential future collections.
  • Time of collection is important.  As the new cones begin to ripen they will turn from bright green to yellowish green and then progress to a purplish brown color. The closer to the purple color they are, the better (as long as the cones are not beginning to open). Ideally the cones should be closed when collected but where they can dried out and they will open with viable seed inside. The seed in the cones will continue forming until full maturity and germination improves the closer you get to full ripening. Please note: Hemlock will retain brown cones from the year before on the tree and some of these may have seed in them. These seeds will not be viable. Only this year’s cones are of interest.

Below are some pictures in which you can see differences between old cones, new green cones, and new ripe cones.

The first picture shows old brown cones that have already opened and dropped most of their seed. The second shows new green cones that are not yet ripe enough to collect. The third picture shows ripe cones that are just on the verge of opening. These are ready to pick but could have been picked a little sooner.

Old brown cones

Immature green cones

Ripening cones about to open

Before you collect, please contact us for further instructions. You can reach us at 828-252-4783 or info@savehemlocksnc.org. Please indicate that you have information about cone collection. Thanks for your help in this effort.