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A Large Tree Nursery in Madison, WI

Tree Species

A tree is defined as a woody plant over 12 feet in height at maturity.

Generally there are two sorts of trees, leaf (deciduous) and evergreen (coniferous).  Tradition has it that the leaf trees are called hardwoods, and that the conifers are called soft woods.  The frailty to this definition is that a balsa is hence a hardwood, and the southern yellow pine is a softwood.

Within hardwoods there are again two sorts of trees, capital trees that make up the canopy of the forest: at this latitude most prevalent are the ashes, beeches, birches, lindens, locusts, maples, oaks, willows. More exotic trees include coffee trees, Amur river cork trees, hackberry, Katsura, Chaeonanthis, and Cledrastis,

Ash trees are too be avoided (see EAB).  

Then there are the understory trees, often called ornamentals: hawthorns, hornbeams, magnolias, redbud, tree lilacs, and the drupes such as the (cherries), pomes (crab apples, flowering pears, hawthorns),amelanchier 

Within the conifer family there are arbor vitae, cedars, dawn redwoods, firs, hemlocks,  pines, spruces, 

Commentaries about these various trees.

Capital or canopy  deciduous trees


The ash family in Dane county shows (include) green, White, and occasionally blue. (Morton observed the blue ash stopped at the Rock River in Wisconsin. (all ashes). They are not considered, because of the emerald ash bore (EAB), which is virtually always fatal, practically untreatable. Most experts project that the ashes (about 25% of the leaf trees in Dane County will be gone within the decade. The pest is quite specific, attacking only ashes. Note that the European mountain ash is exempt from EAB attack.

(Honey) Locusts

Originally honey locust trees had 8 to 12 inch tough leathery seed pods and thorns that were sharp, strong and 4 to 6 inches long.  By selection and asexual reproduction,  several  varieties have been brought to the marketplace without the seeds or thorns.  As we are at the northern end of the range, perhaps the best choice of locust is Skyline.  The yellow Sunburst honey locust is a very disorganized tree with little chance to develop a centralized leader. The Locust family is valued because its canopy has  approximately a 50 % density to its –--to its canopy----, hence you can grow grasses and flowers underneath. A dense canopy tree (maples, beeches, lindens) this is not possible.


Should be placed in urban settings, because white tailed deer in rut seem to seek the soft bark for rubbing tender new antlers.  While the damage is not fatal to the tree, horrendous asthetic damage can occur. Even sizeable trees are not immune from these assaults. Japanese beetles seem attracted to lindens in the first year following transplanting. None the less these are important trees of great beauty and were the trees chosen for the Lindenstrasse in Berlin. A German under a linden with a cold beer is a happy German.
Choices include Little leaf linden, and American lindens.  The little leaf linden has a small leaf, and is quite refined. The American Linden has a large leaf and is quite coarse in appearance, especially at youth


Approximately 500 types worldwide. They display wide range of soil toleration, and few diseases. Because they are smooth bark trees vertical cracks can be a blemish which soon heals over.  

The Reds (Acer rubrum) 

Not to be confused with the Purple-leafed varieties, red maples turn fiery red in the fall. Medium rate of growth (about 1 foot per year) can handle wet locations. 


Royal Red, Crimson King…. Slow growing because there is less chlorophyll    … Cultivar usually grafted upon Norway maples. A marked differential in the growth rate can lead to delayed graft union failure.  Some feel a large purple canopy is an unnatural monstrosity in the middle of a landscape.

Some popular red maples include:

  • Armstrong: distinctly columnar,   perhaps 12 feet x 50 feet at maturity, with reliable red fall color. 
  • Brandywine: slow growing but wonderful red maple with deep purple hue to its fall coloration 
  • Karpick: small  compact, probably  15 x25 at maturity. Male,  no helicopters
  • October Glory: large and broad form red maple that is the last to color. A tree of great beauty.
  • Red Sunset: a very refined red maple with a slow rate of growth.

The Freemani group

A red-silver maple hybrid contains some very interesting varieties. A high frequency of  rate of growth is 18-24 inches per year!

Autumn Blaze

A great reputation that is not fairly earned. Attractive red fall color lead many to this tree. But bad genetics seld to upswept branches which mean tight crotch angles which in turn leads to many bark inclusions and weakness. . A high frequency of these trees then split down the middle.  Attempts to save the tree with bolts or wiring are futil, the sap that leaks out attracts bugs, and the tree gets heart rot.  Another problem is the black spots on the leaves due to potato leaf hoppers


The star of the fremanni class.  Though  reputed to be male, hence seedless-(no helicopters) when under stress may produce seeds that are usually sterile. Rate of growth nearly 2 feet per year.  Upright but not columnar in form. Branch set is usually 30-40 degrees, hence bark inclusion is rare.   Spectacular uniformity suggests little genetic drifting.  Seems unaffected by potato leaf hopper. Does not reliably color red in Dane County, but usually shows some orange.

Sienna Glen

Reduced bark inclusion as compared to Autumn Blaze, still far more than in the Celebration. Tree is somewhat wider than the celebration maple. May tend to have more red coloration in the fall.


An early selection with good architecture, and reasonable fall color, and a vigorus growth rate.

Sugar Maple  

Its leaf is featured on the flag of Canada.  While not an acer rubrum (red maple) its fall color is typically red to orange ( and occasional yellow). Narrow range of pH tolerance to derive nutrients from the soils does limit the use of this beauty.  Spectacular tree where it can be grown.

A note on fall colors:

Fall colors depend on environmental factors as well as a tree’s genetics (both of the individual tree and of the species).  A stressful year can often lead to better fall colors or even early leaf-drop without significant coloration.

Norway Maple  

Ho-hum fall color, and bushels of propellers (seeds) distinguish this tree. Incredible wide and density of canopy means there may be difficulty in raising grass and flowers where canopies overlap. The bare dirt exposes the dense shallow root system.  Considered to be an invasive species.  

Variegated   Maple  

A maple in the Norway family that has a white fringe on its leaf.     Unfortunately a high frequency of these trees revert to green leaf Norway maples over time.     ‘Drummondii’ is the most common cultivar.


Truncatum Maple  

(Norway Japanese  cross) features a wonderful rich pumkin orange fall color. Quite underutlized  in landscaping.

The Oaks

The oak family is divided into the red-black “branch”  and the white oak “branch”. These are easily differentiated, because the white oaks have rounded lobes on the leaf, while the red/black have very pointed lobes. Reputed to have a slow growth rate, the fact is that pin oaks qrow about two feet per year, and swamp white oaks can grow 18+ per year.  Important members of the white oak sector include: 
White oak  slow growing with very thin silver/white bark. This is not a tree for urban or even suburban settings, as even pedestrian traffic on its roots is quite hard on this tree.

Swamp white oak

Dramatically different: rapid rate of growth, (up to 2 feet per year) vigorous root structure takes compression, easily transplants. Also dramatic is the bicolor leaf: the top of the leaf is dark green and smooth, while the underside is silver-white and furry. A native tree that is underutilized in landscaping.. The tree thrives in tight clay soils, even those that are quite wet: can withstand occasional flooding. This tree is limestone intolerant, hence must be sited with care.

Pin oak  

A strong upright central leader with a stark radial pattern to its branches, and exceptional tolerance of wet soils ( its name quercus palistrus means water loving). It has phenomenal red fall color which turns to russet, then drab brown means it holds color far longer than maples, which turn red then promptly seem to shed its leaves. All such properties make this a winner, except for western Dane county, for the tree is limestone intolerant, and must be sited with care. The tree also has a peculiar habit of lower branches drooping downward as time passes. This requires periodic pruning for a very long time.

Northern Pin Oak  

native, but raraly encounterned. More tolerant of limestone than the quercus palustris

Red oak

Limestone tolerant, and very little “organization” to its architecture as displayed by the pin oak.

Black oak

Easily distinguished by “potato chip” dark black bark. A coarse tree that can withstand the limestone outcropings of the west of Dane county.





Speciosa vs hybrids

Should you choose a cultivar (patented cultivated variety) or simply a tree of the species? With the Locust the thorns and huge leathery seedpods dictate the cultivar, the native tree     is simply too uncivilized for urban and suburban planting. 
Growers tend to favor cultivars instead of having to cull 50% or more of their plantings. The “seed saver”crowd see the possibility remains that soon all urban trees may be relatives of 20-30 parent trees, and genetic diversity is being lost.  

The Birches

White  birch

The white birch is a short lived tree which prefers light sandy soils, and does not do well in the heavy clay soils of Dane county.  The tree prefers northern exposure to shade its roots.

River Birch  

The river birch is characterized by peely multi color bark on its trunk. The tree flourishes in damp soil and has a long life expectancy. They come single stem or multi -stem.

Celtis   Hackberry  

Amur river cork tree  to “stump”  

Those tree “experts”who know it all


“aristocrat” flowering pear    non fruiting

The Understory Trees


Heavy feeders,  tend to defoliate in July and August quite susceptible to fire blight, 500 or so varieties, most disease resistant seem to be Prairie fire, and Schmidt Cutleaf 


The hornbeams Infequently encountered are the hornbeams. Slow growing, incredibly dense strong wood. Both varities are long lived  trees of great beauty. Either specie has smooth grey elephantine bark. The foliage looks like elm leaves, and persist often into spring. For this reason many designers use them for privacy screening.  Many times they are called “muscle wood” because of the convoluted surface of the tree.  

Carpinus Carolinia  

(American Hornbeam) frequently have red fall foliage.  Difficult to transplant; should be done in spring or fall. The range of this tree extends up to Canada. Native to the United States. Can be be brutally pruned and shaped into “living sculpture” or hedges. 

Crab apples    

About 500 in number. Most are greviously affected by rust and fire blight in Dane County.


Too vulnerable to cedar apple rust to be of much use in Dane County.

The Conifers


Have long needles, spruces have short. Spruces are usually quite dense pyramidal and “formal” hence the term  “sprucing up”. Pines at maturity get “loose” and open; white pines at 20-25  years can be as wide as high (one measured at 43 feet wide and approximately 40 feet tall. Firs can be tall and narrow or merely pyramidal, but usually feature short blunt (furry) needles when contrasted to the sharper needled spruces. All conifers demand full sun. planting them as an understory tree is a terrible idea. They reach for the sky to break through the canopy, and the result is a Christmas tree on a telephone pole. You get no low branches for privacy.


Generally have trouble in wet areas.  Colorado spruces are simply not adapted to low wet locations.  Black hills spruces have the same problem. 


Should be reserved for large estates and golf courses, as they can quickly 30 or 40 feet wide. 




Firs do not flourish in Dane county with the exception of the concolor fir. Planting other firs will quickly lead to disappointment.