15 Wisconsin Native Trees To Admire (Or Plant In Your Yard)

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Written By Kenique Ivery

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Wisconsin’s planting zones range from 3b-5b, and it has a range of beautiful native trees, each providing something unique. This list is perfect if you are looking for a native tree that can provide nuts, shade, fruit, or flowers. 

The state’s forests are home to both coniferous and deciduous trees. The following list has some notable examples of both types.

Most of these conifers are evergreen, such as balsam fir, but tamarack is deciduous. Other conifers include cedars, firs, pine, spruce, etc.

Wisconsin’s deciduous trees are commonly known as hardwoods. They offer excellent fall color and, in some cases, beautiful spring flowers.

15 Amazing and Useful Wisconsin Native Trees

1. American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) – Nut and Shade Tree

American Beech
Image by NatureServe via Flickr

American beech is native to much of the Eastern United States. In Wisconsin, it is native to the region facing Lake Michigan. The tree is common along riverbanks and streams.

American beech has an oval shape with a wide-spreading and dense canopy. The simple leaves are 3 – 6 inches long with sharp teeth on the margins. In all, the leaves turn to a golden bronze color.

Each fall, mature trees yield edible, brown, hard beechnuts. They measure about ½ – 1 inch in diameter. It can take over 40 years before producing a substantial crop! But since the fruit is bitter, few people mind the wait. Birds and small mammals such as chipmunks and squirrels appreciate them far more.

American beech is a slow to moderate grower, growing 12 to 24 inches per year. But it will live on for generations.

In the landscape, American beech strives in full sun. It does best in a site with acidic and rich soil with plenty of organic matter.

Other Common Names: North American beech

Growing Zones: 4 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 70 feet tall with a spread of 40 feet

2. Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) – Screen and Windbreak Tree

Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)
Image by Doug McGrady via Flickr

Balsam fir is a native evergreen tree. It grows in the northern hardwood forests of Wisconsin.

This type of fir tree makes an attractive Christmas tree because of its pyramidal shape. Also, it forms a narrow, symmetrical, and dense crown.

The pyramidal-shaped tree has lustrous dark green needles 5/8 to 1 inch long. The needles have a welcoming and spicy fragrance—another reason it is a best-selling Christmas tree.

Balsam fir cones are 2 to 4 inches long and start purple. They turn gray-brown and resinous with maturity.

Many landscapers in colder climates like using Balsam fir as a specimen tree. But it also makes a great screen and windbreak.

Balsam fir needs moist, cool, well-drained, and acidic soils for best results. It does not tolerate heat. This tree is a better choice for landscapers in northern Wisconsin

Growing Zones: 3 – 5

Average Size at Maturity: 45 – 75 feet tall with a spread of 20 – 25 feet

3. Bigtooth Aspen (Populus grandidentata) – Windbreak and Screen Tree

Bigtooth Aspen (Populus grandidentata)
Image by under the same moon… via Flickr

You will find bigtooth aspen growing in forests throughout Wisconsin. In particular, the southwestern prairie forests are a bit drier. They tolerate a wide range of soils and environmental conditions. You will even find them striving on rocky sites.

Its toothed leaves are white on the lower surface and dark green on top. In fall, the leaves turn to a beautiful golden yellow shade. The leaves are larger with larger teeth than its famous relative, quaking aspen. Its leaves also tremble in the wind. 

Younger bigtooth aspens have smooth and olive-green bark. After 30 to 40, the bark becomes gray, thick, and rough with noticeable grooves. 

The deciduous Bigtooth aspen has a columnar and narrow shape. It makes an excellent windbreak or screen. 

If you decide to incorporate this type of aspen tree into your landscape, it is best to select a site where it can have plenty of room to grow. The spot should also have full sun exposure throughout the day. 

Bigtooth aspen is a fast grower. The tree does much better on drier sites. If your soil is wetter, consider planting quaking aspen instead.

Other Common Names: Large-tooth aspen, Big-tooth aspen, American aspen, Canadian poplar, White poplar

Growing Zones: 3 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 70 feet tall with a spread of 10 – 20 feet

4. Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) – Fruit and Shade Tree

Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)
Image by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr

Black cherry is a large deciduous tree native to all regions of Wisconsin. Its natural habitat ranges from southeastern Canada down to the high elevation areas of Central America. You will find it growing in lowland, upland woods, and streams.

Black cherry bears white flowers in the spring. The flowers have 5 petals and appear in masses along 3 to 6-inch-long racemes. The aroma of the flowers is pleasant and difficult to miss.

In late summer, the dark pea-sized fruits mature. The taste is bitter-sweet. You can use them in jams, jellies, and preserves. The native fruit is a valuable food source for many birds and small mammals.

Black cherry makes an excellent shade tree because of its large size. They make excellent residential and park trees. Its leaves are glossy green during the summer. In fall, the lustrous foliage becomes yellow to red.

This fast-growing tree does best with at least 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. It has a strong preference for acidic, moist, and well-drained soil. But can also tolerate alkaline soils, dry sites, and some road salt.

Other Common Names: Wild black cherry, Rum cherry, Mountain black cherry

Growing Zones: 3 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 60 feet tall and 20 – 30 feet wide

Flowering Season: Early Spring

5. Black Walnut (Julgans nigra) – Nut and Shade Tree

Black Walnut (Julgans nigra)
Image by Virginia State Parks via Flickr

Native to southern Wisconsin, black walnut is one of the most essential and versatile trees.

The most obvious use is for its edible nuts. Both humans and wildlife place tremendous value on them. In addition, black walnut timber is highly prized for its strength. Typical uses include furniture, flooring, paddles, and coffins.

Also, black walnut has excellent ornamental value. You will find large black walnut trees in parks and large gardens throughout the temperate world.

The slow-growing black walnut has an oval and rounded growth form. It forms a broad canopy with strong branching. Such features make it a remarkable shade tree. The foliage is dark green and compound.

Select a wide, open, and sunny site if you decide to plant a black walnut tree. You will have to be patient as this tree is a slow grower. Black walnut needs a lot of room to spread its solid and massive branches.

For best results, the site should have organically rich and moist soils. Though the tree can tolerate dry soils, the growth will be even slower.

Other Common Names: Eastern American black walnut

Growing Zones: 4 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 70 feet tall and 50 – 75 feet wide

6. Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) – Flowering and Fruit Tree

Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
Image by Gertjan van Noord via Flickr

The deciduous chokecherry is a close relative to black cherry. It is native to the northern half of the United States and the southern half of Canada.

Chokecherry grows throughout Wisconsin, in forests and landscapes. In particular in woodlands, slopes of bluffs, and stabilized dunes near Lake Michigan. As an understory tree, you will find it growing under larger trees in denser forests. 

This native tree reaches about 20 feet high and has a rounded-oval growth habit. In the spring, the tree has an abundance of fragrant white flowers. Flowers attract pollinators such as butterflies and bees. 

The flowers turn to dark purple or red berries in the summer. In some years, chokecherry has heavy yields. The taste is a bit bitter, so few people enjoy them. But they are a valuable source of food for many birds and mammals. 

The fast-growing chokecherry is adaptable. It does well in clay, loamy, and sandy soils. It can tolerate a range of soil moisture types. Also, it will do fine in both full sun and partial shade. 

Other Common Names: Bitter Berry, Virginia Bird Cherry, Western Chokecherry, Black Chokecherry

Growing Zones: 2 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 30 feet tall with a similar spread

Flowering Season: Spring

7. Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) – Fruit and Shade Tree

Hackberry though common throughout North America, gets little attention. But this Wisconsin native is an extraordinary and reliable canopy tree. This tree grows in most of Wisconsin’s forests, except for the northern hardwoods.

The tree has a broad crown with arching branches. The leaves have the same shape as spearheads. They measure about 2-4 inches long and 1 ½ – 2 inches wide with little teeth on the edges. Leaves start as pale green in the spring and become bright green as they mature. In fall, the foliage turns to a soft light-yellow shade.

Hackberries are sweet and small, 1/3 inch in diameter. The drupes become dark purple as they mature in mid-fall. Though edible, few people go out of their way to eat them. Instead, they attract winter birds such as mockingbirds and robins.

Hackberry is an excellent landscape tree for those who live in areas with strong winds or pollution. In addition, it tolerates heat and road salt. It is a great tree for those who don’t have much experience or time to give it attention because it tolerates most conditions.

Other Common Names: Common hackberry, Nettletree, Sugarberry, Beaverwood, Northern hackberry, American hackberry

Growing Zones: 3 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 60 feet tall with a smiliar spread

Flowering Season: Spring

8. Hill’s Oak (Quercus ellipsoidalis) – Shade Tree

Hill’s Oak (Quercus ellipsoidalis)
Image by Loz Pycock via Flickr

Hill’s oak grows in spots with dry, acidic, and poor soils. In Wisconsin, you will find it growing in the prairie forests and various sandy sites throughout the state. 

Hill’s oak is a slow to moderate grower with an oval shape. The large shade tree has glossy green leaves with deep sinuses. In fall, the foliage turns to a vibrant and attractive red shade.

This large tree looks great on an open field or lawn, where it can spread with ease.  

It is better to plant hill’s oak in sites where the soil is sandy and well-drained. Otherwise, it will not strive. It is an excellent alternative to sugar maple and red oak, which have similar features but prefer moister soils. 

The tree needs full sun and plenty of room to spread. Though difficult to find nurseries, you will have little trouble planting one as it transplants easily.  

Other Common Names: Northern pin oak

Growing Zones: 4 – 7

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 70 feet with tall with a similar spread

Flowering Season: Late Spring

9. Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus) – Shade Tree

Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus)
Image by Leonora (Ellie) Enking via Flickr

Kentucky coffee tree gets its name from the small brown fruits that emerge from the seedpods. When they ripen and dry, they resemble coffee beans. It is said that Native Americans and early colonial settlers used to roast the seeds to make a hot beverage. But the raw seedpods are toxic, and wildlife does not eat them.

The tree’s native range in Wisconsin is small, limited to some spotty areas in the southern part of the state. In landscaping, Kentucky coffee tree is common in parks, golf courses, and large open spaces.

The tree’s bark is dark brown and rough, with curved edges. Its leaves are compound, meaning there are multiple leaflets on one leaf. Each leaf can be up to 36 inches long and 24 inches wide.

They have an attractive blue-green color in the spring and summer. The fall color is not as impressive as the others on this list. Foliage turns to a pale-yellow color.

What makes Kentucky coffee tree attractive is its tall and majestic presence. In addition, it produces little clusters of pale green flowers in the spring, which are not easy to see. But their rose-like fragrance is fantastic.

Caring for a Kentucky coffee tree is easy as it is adaptable to various soil conditions. However, it tolerates soil that is dry better than those that are too wet. It is slow-growing and will live to about 100 to 150 years of age.

Other Common Names: Kentucky coffeetree

Growing Zones: 3 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 75 feet tall and 40 – 50 feet wide

Flowering Season: Late spring

10. Pin Cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) – Flowering and Fruit Tree

Pin Cherry (Prunus pensylvanica)
Image by Matt Lavin via Flickr

Pin Cherry is a fast-growing deciduous flowering and fruit tree. You can find it throughout Wisconsin, but it is more abundant in old fields and roadsides. 

Pin cherry has a rounded crown and a slender growth habit. In fall, the foliage turns to an attractive bright yellow. 

In May, pin cherry produces lovely fragrant white flowers. The flowers occur in a small groups of five to seven individual flowers. The flowers attract butterflies and bees. 

The dainty white flowers turn into drupes measuring ¼ inch in diameter. It has light red skin and sour flesh. They are best cooked or in jellies and jams, as they do not taste great fresh. 

According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, pin cherries are remarkably important to wildlife. Twenty-five species of birds and mammals eat the fruit. Also, deer browse its foliage. 

Pin cherry boasts an attractive bark with horizontal, orange-colored lines running on the sides. The bark is reddish-brown, with papery layers. In winter, the tree provides a beautiful silhouette and texture to the landscape. 

Pin cherry needs full sun exposure and soil that is on the drier side. It strives in rocky or sandy, well-drained soil. 

Other Common Names: Bird cherry, Fire cherry, Red cherry

Growing Zones: 2 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 30 feet tall

Flowering Season: May

11. Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) – Nut and Shade Tree

Carya ovata (Shagbark Hickory)
Image by Plant Image Library via Flickr

As the name suggests, shagbark hickory has one of the most exciting barks of any tree. The bark has a peeling and platy appearance throughout the year.

Shagbark hickory is common throughout the eastern half of the United States. Its natural range in Wisconsin is limited to the lower half of the state.

Like its relative, the pecan tree, shagbark hickory bears lots of sweet nuts. The nuts are a great food source for chipmunks, ducks, foxes, black bears, quails, and many other wildlife.

When the nuts drop in the fall, it can be messy. For this reason, this is a poor urban tree. It is best on a field or lawn where it can spread its canopy.

Shagbark hickory takes many years to establish itself, but it does not require much attention. The tree enjoys full sun and soil that is rich and moist. But it will also do well in partial shade.

If you love your nut trees, we have an article dedicated to nut trees that grow in Wisconsin which is recommended reading.

Growing Zones: 4 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 70 – 90 feet tall and 50 – 70 feet wide

Flowering Season: Spring

12. Showy Mountain-ash (Sorbus decora) – Ornamental Tree

Showy Mountain-ash (Sorbus decora)
Image by Forest Service, Eastern Re… via Flickr

Showy mountain-ash offers something interesting throughout the year. The small tree makes a unique ornamental tree.

In the late spring to early summer, it displays showy white flowers. Throughout the summer, the tree bears large clusters of bright red, eye-catching fruit, which persist until winter. Its bluish-green leaves turn yellow in fall.

Showy mountain ash is native to the eastern half of Canada and isolated spots in the United States. You will find it in scattered locations near swamps, upland forests, bluffs, and shores in Wisconsin.

The tree grows best in cool climates. It is not tolerant of pollution, drought, or hot areas. In a suitable environment, it is easy to grow. This Ash tree does best in full sun and soil that drains well.

Other Common Names: Northern Mountain ash, Dogberry

Growing Zones: 2 – 5

Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 40 feet with a similar spread

Flowering Season: Late spring or early summer

13. Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) – Shade Tree

Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)
Image by James St. John via Flickr

Sugar maple is the state tree of Wisconsin and one of the most abundant in its forests. But it is also a remarkable landscape tree. It gets its name from the sweet and syrupy sap it produces.

The selling feature of sugar maple is its gorgeous leaves. They are medium to dark green and turn burnt orange, yellow, or red in the fall.

With its round shape and dense crown, sugar maple is a common shade tree. You will find them in numerous yards throughout the state.

Mature trees produce small, greenish-yellow flowers in the spring. These flowers turn into pairs of winged seeds which can be messy when they drop.

Sugar maples are a favorite among squirrels. They love feeding on the buds, seeds, twigs, and leaves.

If you decide to plant a sugar maple, give it plenty of room. It does not like confined spaces. But it is less picky about sun exposure, doing well in either full sun or partial shade.

Like many species of maple tree, the sugar maple has a clear preference for moist soil conditions, but it has a moderate drought tolerance. Soil can be acidic to slightly alkaline and well-drained.

Growing Zones: 3 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 75 feet tall with a spread of 40 – 50 feet

Flowering Season: Spring

14. Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) – Shade Tree

Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolar)
Image by Bruce Kirchoff via Flickr

As the name suggests, you will find swamp white oak growing in swampy and low-lying areas. In particular, along riverbanks and in moist bottomlands.

This native tree is a typical shade and street tree because of its longevity and appearance. It grows at a moderate pace and can live more than 300 years!

Swamp white oak has an attractive rounded shape. Its 3-to-7-inch leaves are dark green and deciduous with a leathery appearance. In fall, the foliage becomes yellow, bronze, and red-purple.

Swamp white oak prefers at least six hours of direct and unfiltered sunlight each day. It prefers soil that is acidic, moist, and wet. Despite its common name and preference, it tolerates drought.

Among the care notes, the preference for acidic soil is most important. If the soil is not acidic enough, the leaves will start to turn yellow. If you plan to plant one, a soil pH test is necessary.

Growing Zones: 4 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 60 feet tall with an equal spread

Flowering Season: Spring

15. Tamarack (Larix laricina) – Specimen Tree

Tamarack (Larix laricina)
Image by spycup via Flickr

Like balsam fir, tamarack is a conifer. But this tree is deciduous, unlike most conifers which are evergreen. Its natural range is from Alaska through Canada and down to the northeastern Atlantic coast. In Wisconsin, you will find it growing in wet, swampy, and boggy locations. 

Tamarack bears small rosy pink cones in the spring, which emerge with its new needles. In the summer, the foliage with its soft green needles provides vigor to the landscape. 

The tree can surprise some landscapers who are unfamiliar with the tree as they assume the needles are evergreen. The needles turn to an attractive yellow shade to their unexpected delight before dropping. 

If you want to plant a tamarack tree, ensure that the site has wet soil. The tree has a strong preference for organic–rich soil. You can make the soil more organic with plenty of compost. In addition, the site should get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. 

Other Common Names: Hackmatack, Eastern larch, Black larch, Red larch, American larch

Growing Zones: 2 – 5

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 80 feet tall and 15 – 30 feet wide

Admiring Wisconsin’s Native Trees

One common feature of many of Wisconsin’s native trees is their beautiful fall foliage. There, landscapers and admirers get to witness some of the most beautiful foliage in the world. Most of the trees on this list offer splendid fall colors. One exciting addition is the tamarack tree, a deciduous conifer that has beautiful yellow fall color.

Many of Wisconsin’s native trees are easy to incorporate into landscapes. Trees such as sugar maple, American beech, Balsam fir, and Kentucky coffee tree are found in yards, parks, and gardens throughout North America.   

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Kenique Ivery

Global Green Thumb

Kenique grew up in Florida and currently lives in southern China. Before China, he spent many years in Portugal and the Caribbean. He studied economics and is a teacher, entrepreneur, and writer. Since he was knee-high, he has been gardening and was an active member of FFA (Future Farmers of America). He is his best self in a densely wooded forest or park. Depending on the day, you can find him reading, hiking, traveling, exercising, sipping lots of tea, or eating everything in sight.

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