Maybe your favorite tree holds a swing or a fort; shades birthday parties and picnics; has perfect climbing branches; or drops piles of leaves and interesting collectibles like acorns, cones, helicopters or shakers. If we look at this favorite tree from a bird or satellite viewpoint we see that it is a member of a larger community that is determined by the geologic history, bedrock, soil and climate of an area.
In Door County, the limestone, dolomite bedrock, topography that ranges from rocky outcrops to lowland swamps, and the lake climate provide an abundant variety of forest communities. These diverse forest communities provide habitat for many threatened and endangered species.
The best way to experience and learn about these forest communities is to participate in programs provided by the state parks, the Ridges Sanctuary in Baileys Harbor and Crossroads at Big Creek in Sturgeon Bay, to name a few. Here is a simple guide to a few Door County favorites that will help you tell the trees from the forest.
DOOR COUNTY TREE GUIDE
(A) Northern White Cedar – Eastern Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis)
Leaves: Small, scale-like with a flat appearance on branches.
Bark: Shredding, ridged and light brown.
Habitat/Community: Swamps and rocky upland limestone outcrops. The branches on fallen trunks keep growing by producing roots. On limestone cliffs cedars slow their growth to defy gravity for hundreds of years.
Identification Clues: Cedar smell, low branches/fallen trunks that have grown into trees and cliff hanging trees.
Other Information: French explorers in the 1500s used the bark and leaves to make tea high in vitamin C that saved many from dying of scurvy. The tree was thus named Arborvitae, Latin for tree of life.
(B) Eastern Hemlock (Taxus canadensis)
Leaves: Flattened, blunt needles, appearing on a single plane from the two sides of the twigs.
Bark: Scaly, deeply furrowed and purplish brown.
Habitat/Community: Acid soils, moist cool lowlands and rocky outcrops.
Identification Clues: Soft to touch with short flat needles that have two white bands underneath and branches that sag down from trunk.
Other Information: Hemlocks are deer candy. They do not reproduce from vegetative sprouts, only from seeds so they die when heavily browsed by deer.
(C) Northern White Pine (Pinus strobes)
Leaves: Five needles in a bundle and soft pale green.
Bark: Heavily furrowed and dark gray to black.
Habitat/Community: Well-drained sandy soils and in all forest types.
Identification Clues: Horizontal branch growth from the trunk. They are one of the tallest trees, growing an average of 150 feet in this region.
Other Information: Provides food and shelter to many types of wildlife. Mature White Pine are the preferred nesting tree of bald eagles because the strong upper branches grow at a nearly 90 degree angle from the trunk making an excellent nesting platform for their nests, which can weigh up to two tons.
(D) Red Pine – Norway Pine (Pinus resinosa)
Leaves: Two thick needles in a bundle.
Bark: Scaly bark that flakes off revealing pink-colored inner bark.
Habitat/Community: Pine forests and plantations.
Identification Clues: Ink-colored bark.
(E) Tamarack – Eastern Larch (Larix laricina)
Leaves: Light blue-green turning orange in the fall and attached to the twigs in tight spiral clusters around short spur branches.
Bark: Dark gray and flakes off in small scales.
Habitat/Community: Bog forests and open bogs.
Identification Clues: Spurs, clusters, paper-thin deciduous needles and loss of all needles in the fall.
DECIDUOUS (SHEDS LEAVES IN FALL)
(F) American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)
Leaves: Simple and alternate arrangement, egg-shaped, turn a bronze color in fall.
Bark: Smooth and gray that looks like elephant legs.
Habitat/Community: Moist, rich uplands and well drained lowlands in mixed hardwoods.
Identification Clues: Young trees hold their light brown leaves in winter.
(G) Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera)
Leaves: Egg-shape that tamper to a point.
Bark: Chalky white and the peels look like paper rolls.
Habitat/Community: Moist uplands and cutover areas.
Identification Clue: Rolls of peeling paper that reveal pink/orange inner bark.
Other Information: Only collect bark from the ground. Pulling bark off the tree will permanently damage it. Waterproof bark makes for excellent kindling. Has been used for canoes and water-carrying vessels.
Yellow Birch – Silver Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)
Leaves: Lanceolate shape with course edges.
Bark: Peels/hangs from trunk in ribbon-sized shreds and yellow to gray with a silver sheen.
Habitat/Community: Mixed hardwoods and cool, moist uplands.
Identification Clues: Golden bark shreds and aromatic wintergreen smell.
(H) Quaking Aspen – Popple (Populus tremuloides)
Leaves: Egg-shaped to nearly round with a point and the petioles connecting the leaf to the twig are flat and weak causing the leaves to tremble in the breeze.
Bark: Dark and furrowed with age but grayish green to white and smooth on young trees and at the top of mature trees. Unlike birch, does not peel in paper scrolls.
Habitat/Community: Deforested areas and forest clearings.
Identification Clues: Quaking motion of leaves on tree caused by flat stems.
(I) Sugar Maple – Wisconsin State Tree (Acer saccharum)
Leaves: Three to five lobes with a few large pointed teeth and opposite arrangement on branches.
Bark: Smooth gray that becomes furrowed and scaly and may have dark sap stains on trunk.
Habitat/Community: Moist soils of uplands and slopes in mixed hardwood forest.
Identification Clues: Opposite leaf arrangement and buckets or hoses attached to trees in spring for collecting maple sap to make syrup.
Other Information: It takes 32 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.
A Sierra Club Naturalist’s Guide – The North Woods of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Southern Ontario, G. Daniel. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1981.”
National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees – Eastern Region, E. Little, New York. Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.
Help Door County Trees and Forests
- Plan construction with existing trees in mind.
- Plant native trees on your property.
- Protect Door County Ash trees – do not transport firewood to Door County which spreads the Emerald Ash Borer. (More information can be found at www.emeraldashborer.wi.gov.)
- Learn more about Door County trees at these websites:
- Stevens Point online herbarium:
- Ridges Sanctuary in Baileys Harbor:
- Crossroads at Big Creek, Sturgeon Bay: Crossroads at Big Creek, Sturgeon Bay:
- WI Department of Natural Resources:
5. Learn about eco-services that trees provide and the importance of tree care at www.treesaregood.com.