11 Magnificent Varieties of Trees of Wisconsin

The forests of Wisconsin cover roughly 46% of the state’s total land mass.  As such, Wisconsin boasts a huge variety of trees, all of which boast unique morphology and characteristics. 

This article provides an introduction to 11 native species of trees of Wisconsin. Whether you are trying to identify a type of tree, learn more about a certain species, or need to find the perfect tree for your garden, all the key information can be found in this article.   

Types of Trees in Wisconsin 

There are two main categories that trees in Wisconsin can be divided into: 

Deciduous Trees

Deciduous trees are those that shed their leaves during the fall. Prior to dropping, the leaves turn fiery shades of yellow, orange and red. These eye-catching displays make these trees popular for landscaping. They also provide hardwood that is ideal for construction. 

Evergreen Trees 

Evergreen trees retain their green foliage all year round. This makes them popular garden plants as they have ornamental appeal and provide colour and privacy when most other plants and trees are bare. 

11 Varieties of Trees in Wisconsin

Read on to discover descriptions, ideal growing zones, conditions, and care tips for the tree species listed below. 

1. Sugar Maple

Sugar Maple
Credit: Liz West by CC: 2.0

Scientific Name: Acer saccharum 

  • Ideal Position: Full sun
  • Average Mature Height: 60 to 75 feet
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 8 

The sugar maple is the state tree of Wisconsin and it gets its name from the sweet sap that it produces, which is the key component of maple syrup. The leaves of the maple tree have five lobes and are dark green most of the year but turn a vibrant red in the fall. 

Like many maple trees, this species favours moist but well-draining soil. Although it thrives best in full sun, it also grows in partial shade and is not picky about soil pH. 

When planting a sugar maple, be sure to space it adequately to accommodate its shallow but extensive roots. 

2. Green Ash

Green Ash
Credit: Matt Lavin by CC: 2.0 

Scientific Name: Fraxinus pennsylvanica

  • Ideal Position: Full sun
  • Average Mature Height: 40 to 60 feet
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 2 to 9

Almost 8% of the trees in Wisconsin are ash. There are 4 different species across the state green ash, blue ash, black ash, and white ash. 

They are deciduous, hardwood trees that are defined by their spear-shaped leaves and diamond-patterned bark. During the spring, clusters of small, purple flowers appear on the tree. 

Green ash trees are fast-growing and ideal for providing shade. Due to their large size and strong root systems, they should be planted in plenty of space. These trees are low maintenance and don’t require pruning. 

3. White Oak

White Oak
Credit: Bay and Gables by CC: 4.0

Scientific Name: Quercus alba 

  • Ideal Position: Full sun
  • Average Mature Height: 80 to 100 feet
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 9

There are 9 native oak species in Wisconsin, one of which is the white oak. 

Oaks can reach over 300 years of age. Young oaks produce pale pink leaves which become green as they mature. During the fall the green leaves turn red before dropping.  

White oaks have thick trunks and a wide-spreading crown. The acorns produced by oaks are an important food source for a variety of animals. Additionally, the strong wood of this tree is a popular material for making furniture. 

A hardy species, white oak trees can adapt to a variety of soil types and textures, so long as it’s moist and well-draining. 

It is entirely possible to grow an oak from an acorn, though because they are slow growing it will take around 6 years before the tree is self-sustaining.

4. Hackberry

Hackberry

Scientific Name: Celtis occidentalis 

  • Ideal Position: Full sun
  • Average Mature Height: 40 to 60 feet
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 9

Native to Wisconsin, the hackberry is a common shade tree. It has a wide-reaching canopy with spear-shaped leaves. For most of the year, the leaves are green but in the fall they turn yellow before dropping. 

Although they are edible, few people consume the small hackberries that grow on this tree. The sweet, dark purple berries are commonly consumed by birds. 

Hackberry trees are adaptable, hardy and fast-growing so are popular in urban areas. thrive in moist and rich soil and require plenty of space for their dense root system. 

5. Balsam Fir

Balsam Fir
Credit: DVS by CC: 2.0

Scientific Name: Abies balsamea 

  • Ideal Position: Full sun to partial shade 
  • Average Mature Height: 45 to 75 feet
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 5

The balsam fir is native to Wisconsin and is mainly concentrated in the northern forests of the state. These evergreen trees are easily identified by their dark green, needle-like leaves and piney scent. 

The balsam fir grows in a pyramid-like shape, making it a popular species for Christmas trees. These trees produce fir cones which are initially purple in colour and then become brown as they develop. 

Ideal conditions for this tree are cool, moist and acidic soil. The balsam fir is a hardy, cold-loving tree that can survive freezing temperatures, thriving in climates of 40oF. Their roots run deep into the soil and they have a strong, central root. 

6. Quaking Aspen

Quaking Aspen
Credit: Mshuang2 by CC: 1.0

Scientific Name: Populus tremuloides 

  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • Average Mature Height: 20 to 80 feet
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 2 to 8

Aspen trees can be found in the northern woods of Wisconsin and are the second most abundant species in these areas after maple. Quaking aspen is the most widely distributed tree that is native to North America. 

Quaking aspen have tall, narrow trunks and assume a conical shape. These trees are named after their broad, flat leaves that “tremble” in the breeze. During the summer the leaves are green and in the fall they turn golden-yellow. 

Aspen grows quickly and densely, thriving in a variety of soil and environmental conditions. However, they are not tolerant of shade. Quaking aspen is a pioneer species which means they are the first to colonize barren environments. 

7. Red Cedar

Red Cedar
Credit: David. J. Stang by CC: 4.0

Scientific Name: Juniperus virginiana

  • Ideal Position: Full sun to part shade 
  • Average Mature Height: 25 to 30 feet
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9

The oldest known tree in Wisconsin is a 1300-year-old red cedar growing from the side of a cliff. As such, it’s a hardy and adaptable species that can grow in a variety of habitats. They grow in a conical shape and are evergreen, retaining their green, needle-like leaves all year long. 

Red cedar gets its name from its red-brown bark, which can peel off in long strips, revealing the rust-red layer underneath. During the summer and fall, red cedars produce dark blue cones that resemble berries. 

8. Black Walnut

Black Walnut
Credit: R. A. Nonenmacher by CC: 4.0

Scientific Name: Juglans nigra 

  • Ideal Position: Full sun
  • Average Mature Height: 50 to 70 feet
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 9

The black walnut tree is native to Wisconsin. It’s a slow-growing tree that has a wide-reaching canopy and green, spear-shaped leaves This tree requires a lot of growing space to make room for its large branches and extensive roots. 

Most well-known for its production of walnuts, the black walnut tree is popular with humans and animals alike. The green husk of walnuts will split open when the nut is mature, revealing the dark-brown shell that can be cracked open to obtain the nut. 

Black walnut timber is strong and durable, making it a popular furniture material. These trees have great ornamental value and grow best in rich, moist soils with plenty of sunlight. 

9. Paper Birch/White Birch

Paper Birch
Credit: Wing-Chi Poon by CC 2.5

Scientific Name: Betula papyrifera 

  • Ideal Position: Full sun to partial shade 
  • Average Mature Height: 50 to 70 feet
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 2 to 6

Paper birch, river birch and swamp birch are native to Wisconsin, with paper birch being the most common. The toothed, arrow-shaped leaves of a birch sit in a rounded crown at the top of the trunk. They are green in colour but become yellow, orange or red in the fall before dropping. 

The paper birch can be easily identified by its characteristic, silver-white bark. The bark often peels in thin, horizontal layers which is where this tree gets its name from. Immature trees have red-brown bark before it turns white. 

Paper birch is a very hardy tree and grows best in cooler regions as they dislike high heat and humidity. They should be planted in acidic soil that remains cool throughout the summer months. 

10. Shagbark Hickory

Shagbark Hickory
Credit: Plant Image Library by CC: 2.0

Scientific Name: Carya ovata 

  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • Average Mature Height: 60 to 80 feet
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 8

The shagbark hickory can be easily identified by its long, shaggy bark that peels away from the tree, hence its name. It has green, spearhead-shaped leaves that turn yellow or brown and drop in the fall. They produce clusters of green catkins during spring. 

The Shagbark hickory produces sweet nuts that are consumed by both people and animals. Hickory wood is one of the strongest and densest in North America, making it popular for crafting floors, doors, and furniture. 

Be sure to plant a hickory tree away from cars as the falling nuts can cause damage. These trees are slow growing but once established require minimal maintenance. They favour moist soils and humid climates and make great ornamental trees. 

11. Tamarack

Tamarack
Credit: Gilles Ayotte by CC: 4.0

Scientific Name: Larix laricina 

  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • Average Mature Height: 40 to 80 feet
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 2 to 5

Tamarack trees are conical in shape and are covered with green, needle-like leaves. They are the only tree in Wisconsin that’s leaves change colour and drop in the fall. During the spring this tree produces seed cones that are pink at bloom and become brown as they mature. 

The tamarack tree grows naturally in boggy and swampy locations. When planting this tree, requires wet, organic-rich soil. It thrives in cool climates but needs full sun as it is intolerant of shade. 

Wisconsin Tree Care 

Although the care requirements vary between tree species, there are a few general rules you can follow to ensure the optimum conditions for your tree. 

Watering Requirements 

Young trees require frequent and sufficient watering to help them become established. Mature trees generally don’t need watering unless it’s particularly hot and arid. 

Position

All the trees on this list should be planted in areas where they receive full sun, ideally at least 6 hours every day. 

Different species have their own range of shade tolerance, but generally, too much shade will see reduced growth. Some trees on this list are intolerant to shade, including the tamarack and aspen. 

Temperature and Humidity

Optimum temperature and humidity vary between species. Some trees on this list, such as green ash can tolerate drought and high temperatures. Others, like the balsam fir, do best in cold climates. 

Soil Requirements

Generally, trees require moist, well-draining soil as these conditions allow the essential nutrients and minerals to be absorbed by the roots. Unless I have stated otherwise, the trees in my list do best in slightly acidic to neutral soil.  

Propagation

The easiest way to propagate trees is via cuttings. Choose a healthy branch and cut just below a bud, then plant the cutting in a container with potting soil. 

Species such as walnut and oak can be grown from their nuts and seeds, although this process is lengthy and more difficult. 

If you enjoyed this article here’s a link to another article about native trees in Arizona.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many trees are native to Wisconsin?

There are around 30 species of trees that are native to Wisconsin. 

Citations

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.