Hemlocks ages in Pa   Kirk Johnson
  Jul 20, 2005 07:20 PDT 

This thread reminds me of a tidbit I recently ran across. From a report
titled "Tionesta Natural and Scenic Area" published by the Allegheny
National Forest in March, 1943 (page 6):

"A hemlock cut in Luzerne County near Mud Lake in 1893 and carefully counted
by Dr. D.S. Hartline gave the astonishing record of 969 years on the stump."

I don't remember hearing of any eastern hemlock living more than 600 years
or so prior to reading this.

Kirk Johnson
Warren, PA
Re: hemlocks in Pa, a little too old?   Paul Jost
  Jul 20, 2005 11:31 PDT 
I'll leave it up to a dendrochronologist to make a qualified comment, but here are my unqualified comments:

Does anyone really believe that a hemlock remains intact to it's pith for 969 years? I would have to believe that most hemlocks 1/3-1/2 that age wouldn't have a rotted out, hollow core. Isn't hemlock one of those trees that can have more than 1 ring per year in certain cases? It sounds to me like someone counted years with multiple rings and then did a little or a lot of extrapolation to get to the core.

Lee, Will, and others, can you comment on what you have found from your experience in coring OLD hemlocks?

Paul Jost
Re: hemlocks in Pa, a little too old?    Lee E. Frelich
   Jul 20, 2005 11:54 PDT 


I had one hemlock with 513 rings, and it had been suppressed for 300 years
in the center of the tree, which caused the wood to have more secondary
compounds in it that prevented rot. Another hemlock I cored was only about
15 inches dbh but was 350 years old, and again the wood was dark colored
and solid. Slow growth in hemlock produces dense, dark wood with a lot of
compounds that prevent rot. I don't know if the 900+ is valid, but if it
was a severely suppressed tree or was just slow growing for some other
reason, it may not have been rotted in the middle.

Hemlock usually does not put on many, if any, false rings.

RE: hemlocks in Pa, a little too old?    Will Blozan
   Jul 20, 2005 12:04 PDT 
I believe the 900+ age for hemlock was an extrapolation. I have seen
discontinuous rings in hemlock, not more than one ring per year (false
rings- which pines can do I think). I have personally counted 535 rings in
an intact hemlock, as in to pith. The wood seemed fine all the way to the

Re: hemlocks in Pa, a little too old?   Neil Pederson
  Jul 20, 2005 12:31 PDT 


Here is an old thread where max age for eastern
hemlock was discussed:


Suffice to say, Ed Cook has cored ~ 42
populations of old-growth hemlock stands and >
1000 hemlock trees over the last 20 years across
its range. The oldest individual he found was ~
557 years old in Tionesta. I believe that tree
was cored in the early 1980s. You can check the
International Tree Ring Data Bank (ITRDB):


Ed has an incredible knack for finding the
oldest individual in a stand. He has cored the
oldest individual in the ITRDB for many eastern
species. The fact that he hasn't broke 600 years
says something about the 969 year age.

Lee is correct, hemlock rarely produces a false
ring. Missing rings are more of an issue.

Hope this helps,

RE: hemlocks in Pa    Ernie Ostuno
   Jul 21, 2005 07:57 PDT 


Ed's first link mentions a paper by Nowacki and Abrams of the Penn State
forestry department that gives a thorough coring analysis of the site.
The really interesting finding was that cutting occurred in most of the
stands of old trees at the site in the 1840s and that cutting was
widespread enough to have had an effect on all of the stands, even the
core group of ancient hemlocks.

The two largest hemlocks in the core group of about a dozen big trees
(including some massive tulip poplars) have fallen. One of them,
nicknamed "Old Henry", fell back in 1981 and a cross section of it can
be seen hanging in the Ferguson Building (the PSU forestry building) on
the Penn State campus. There are over 500 growth rings and the core was
cut 53 feet from the base of the tree. So how old was the tree when it
reached 53 feet tall? Who knows, but you can add that number to the 500+
years it grew after that. There are still two or three hemlocks almost
as big still standing nearby.

There are a couple other old growth sites not far from Alan Seeger.
Detweiler Run and Shingletown Gap are an easy drive from there and
Snyder-Middleswarth is not too far, either.

Also nearby is Schall's Gap, a small patch of old growth right off PA
Route 45. A grad student at PSU cored a hemlock at that site that had
540 rings to a healthy core!


As for old hemlocks, I have seen a mention of a 900 year old core of a
fallen hemlock taken in the Boston Run area of Ricketts Glen State Park
and a 600 year old hemlock at Salt Springs State Park, both of them in
northeast central Pennsylvania. I asked Marc Abrams about these and he
was skeptical since the source of the numbers could not be trakced down.
I would say 600 is possible based on the fact that 540 rings have been
counted on a living, healthy hemlock.

Re: hemlocks in Pa, a little too old?   Kirk Johnson
  Jul 21, 2005 10:57 PDT 
It does read 969 in the document, so that wasn't a typo on my part. Also, I
tend to believe the author(s) really did mean 969 years when they wrote the
document since they used the word "astonishing" to describe the age
(although 699 years could be "astonishing" too I suppose).

I was very surprised and a little skeptical myself when I read 969. Perhaps
Mr. Hartline could have made a mistake in counting the rings back in 1893.
But in the end I don't doubt it's possible, if the conditions were just
right in certain portions of the hemlock's native range, that some specimens
could reach such an age. I even find it uplifting in a way to think that
might be possible.

Kirk Johnson