Woodland Plant Database

Glossary of Wisconsin Woodland Species Characteristics


















Common Name

Common names are less formal than the scientific names and usually easier to pronounce. The difficulty with using common names is that often more than one common name exists for the same plant. For example, shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia) is also called roosterhead, birdbill, Indian chief, and Johnny jump.


Genus and Species

Scientific names are standardized names assigned to individual plants. They are based on natural relationships among plants and used world-wide. Scientific names include a generic name (genus) and a specific name (species). The generic name identifies a group of plants such as Quercus (the oaks) or Acer (the maples). The specific name identifies a specific plant within the genus. Borealis identifies red oak in the genus Quercus . The scientific name for red oak is Quercus borealis .



A family is a group of genera (plural for genus) that resemble one another. For instance, the rose family, called Roseacea , includes the genera Malus (apple and crabapple), Rubus (raspberries), Prunus (cherries), Fragaria (strawberries) and others. These plants are in the same family because of they have several morphological similarities.



The size of a plant is stated as the mature height of the plant. The size also indicates which vegetative layer in the forest the mature plant occupies.

  • Trees The mature height of a tree is classified into four divisions:
  • Large Canopy = 75 to 100 feet or more (22.5 to 30 meters)
  • Small Canopy = 50 to 75 feet (15 - 22.5 meters)
  • Large Understory = 35 to 50 feet (10 to 15 meters)
  • Small Understory = 20 to 35 feet (6 - 10 meters)
  • Shrubs The mature height of a shrub is classified into four divisions:
  • Large Shrub = 12 to 20 feet or more (4 to 6 meters)
  • Mid-height shrub = 6 to 12 feet (2 to 4 meters)
  • Small Shrub = 3 to 6 feet (1 to 2 meters)
  • Very Small Shrub = up to 3 feet (1 meter)
  • Vines The vine height is divided into four divisions.
  • Tall Vine = A climbing vine that reaches 35 feet or more (10 meters)
  • Mid-height Vine = A climbing vine 20 to 35 feet (6 to 10 meters)
  • Low Vine = A climbing vine 3 to 20 feet (1 to 6 meters)
  • Very Low Vine = A groundcover/shrub-like vine up to 3 feet (1 meter)



Longevity refers to the average length of time a plant can be expected to live. There are three categories

  • Short lived = 100 years or less
  • Medium lived = 100 to 200 years
  • Long lived = 200 years or more


Growth Rate

The rate of growth is the vertical increase in height in one growing season. Age and environmental factors will also play a role in rate of growth. Growth rate is divided into three categories.

  • Slow = yearly growth of 12 inches or less (30 centimeters or less)
  • Medium = annual growth between 12 and 24 inches (30 to 60 centimeters)
  • Fast = more than 24 inches per year (> 60 centimeters)



As trees mature they develop their own particular shape. The shape is the silhouette or outline of the tree's crown (branches and leaves). Tree shapes are described as geometric shapes. Six geometric shapes are listed.

  • Conical = a triangular shape
  • Columnar = a cylindrical shape
  • Globular = a round, circular shape
  • Irregular = an asymmetrical, uneven or irregular shape
  • Obovoid = elliptic or egg-shaped, broadest at the top of the crown
  • Ovoid = elliptic or egg-shaped, broadest at the base




This is a list of woodland communities where the plant naturally grows such as northern dry forest.



Leaf Arrangement

Leaves and buds are attached to the stem at a node. How the leaves are grouped at a node determines leaf arrangement. Leaves are arranged the following ways:

  • Alternate - Leaves are spaced singly along the length of a stem. Only one leaf is attached to each node.
  • Opposite - Two leaves are attached to a node directly across from each other.
  • Whorled - Three or more leaves are attached to each node.


Leaf Type

  • Simple - A simple leaf has only one part.
  • Pinnately Compound - Leaflets are arranged along the length of a central stalk.
  • Palmately Compound - Leaflets radiate from a single point like fingers radiating from the palm of a hand.
  • Bipinnately Compound - Leaflets are arranged along a branched stalk.


Leaf Margins

  • Entire - A smooth leaf margin.
  • Toothed - A margin with teeth.
  • Lobed - Rounded divisions along the margin.


Fall Leaf Color

Refers to the color of leaves when they change color. During the growing season, leaves are green because they are manufacturing chlorophyll. As the days shorten and become cooler, deciduous plants stop producing chlorophyll; this is when other pigments in the leaves become more pronounced.



Bloom Time

Bloom time lists the duration a plant is in flower. This information will help you know when the plant blooms and for how long.

Bloom Color

This field describes the color of the flowers.


Fruit Type

Fruit development is triggered by pollination, fertilization, and seed development. The ovary of a flower matures into a fruit. Fruits are divided into nine types.

  • Berry - Fruits with soft fleshy coverings over the seed. Ex. Black Cherry.
  • Nut or Acorn - A nut partially or completely enclosed in a husk, which may be papery, woody, leafy or spiny. Ex. Red Oak.
  • Legume - A bean-like pod that splits open along its seams at maturity. Ex. Honeylocust.
  • Samara - Seeds with a thin membranous wing. Ex. Red Maple.
  • Cone - A woody fruit with stiff overlapping scales that holds seeds. Ex. White Pine.
  • Multiple - A ball-like head that holds several one-celled, one-seeded fruits. Ex. American Planetree.
  • Capsule - A dry fruit with more than one chamber that splits to release seeds. Ex. Witchhazel.
  • Strobile - A hanging or erect catkin or cone-like fruit with papery overlapping seeds. Ex. White Birch.
  • Follicle - An aggregate of small fleshy pods on short erect stems. Ex. Milkweed.
  • Achene - A small, dry, hard, non-splitting fruit with one seed. Ex. Rock Clematis.


Fruit color

This field describes the color of ripe fruit.


Fruit Time

Identifies the time when fruit is ripe and available for wildlife.




Shade tolerance

Many woody plants are able to tolerate both sun and shade. However, some plants require full sun, others require partial shade or shade. When planning a woodland or enhancing an existing woodland it is important to know how much shade or sun a plant will tolerate. Five categories of shade tolerance are listed below:

  • Very Tolerant - These plants grow and survive beneath dense shade. Examples include sugar maple and leatherwood. Usually, these plants will not do well in full sun exposure.
  • Tolerant - Shade tolerant plants grow and survive beneath moderately dense shade. Examples are red oak and hazelnut.
  • Intermediate - Intermediate plants tolerate moderate shade. Examples are white pine and black chokeberry.
  • Intolerant - Shade intolerant plants grow beneath light shade. Examples include black cherry and potentilla species.
  • Very intolerant - These plants are suppressed in shade, therefore require full sun exposure to grow and survive. Examples include quacking aspen and red osier dogwood.


Soil Texture Range

The soil texture range indicates what soil textures a particular plant requires.

Soil is made up of three particle sizes—sand, silt and clay. Sand is the largest particle, silt is intermediate, and clay is the smallest. Soils have different textures depending upon the proportions of sand, silt or clay particles. Soil texture is divided into five general categories.

  • Coarse = large particles, sandy or gravely soils
  • Moderately coarse = sandy soil mixed with smaller particles
  • Medium = average (loam) soils, silt-sized particles
  • Moderately fine = clay mixed with larger-sized particles
  • Fine = small particles, clay soils


Drainage Range

The drainage range indicates what soil drainage conditions a species can tolerate. Soil drainage is a relationship between water in the soil and topography. Five drainage conditions are listed:

  • Flooded - In these areas standing water is present most of the growing season.
  • Wet - These are areas where standing water is present most of the growing season, except during times of drought. Wet areas are found at the edges of ponds, rivers, streams, ditches and low spots. Wet conditions often exist on poorly drained soils with a high clay content.
  • Moist - These are areas where the soil is damp. Occasionally the soil is saturated and drains slowly. These areas are at slightly higher elevations than wet sites. Moist conditions may exist in sheltered areas where a structure, woodland or a slope blocks the sun and wind.
  • Well-drained - In these areas rain water drains readily and puddles do not last long. Soils are usually medium textured and moisture is available to plants most of the growing season.
  • Dry - In dry areas water drains rapidly through the soil. Soils are usually sandy, rocky or shallow. Slopes are often steep and exposed to sun and wind. Water runs off quickly and does not remain in the soil.


Moisture Range

The moisture range indicates what moisture conditions plants are able to tolerate. Available soil moisture relates to the amount of moisture available for use by plants. There are five divisions of available soil moisture:

  • Droughty = very low soil moisture availability.
  • Dry = low
  • Average = moderate
  • Moist = high
  • Wet = very high soil moisture availability.


Reaction (pH)

Reaction (pH) indicates what pH values a plant will tolerate. Soils that are neutral are neither acidic nor alkaline and range from 6.5 to 7.5 on the pH scale. Acidic soils have a pH less than 6.5 and alkaline soils have a pH greater than 7.5.


Sensitivity to Ice/Wind

Use this information as a guide if you need to select species that are tolerant to ice and strong winds.


Sensitivity to artificial Light

Use this information to select species that will be exposed to long periods of artificial light such as a lighted parking lot.


Sensitivity to Salt

Use this information to select species that will be exposed to salt spray.


Sensitivity to Soil Compaction

This information is helpful if you have compacted soil and need to choose species that are able to tolerate these harsh conditions. Normally soils have spaces between the soil particles to allow air and water to move through the soil. When soil becomes compacted, the spaces are squeezed shut. These conditions make it difficult for plants to absorb air and water for growth. In many urban situations, the soil becomes compacted from heavy equipment, from people walking on paths, or paving.


Sensitivity to Heat/Drought

Use this information if you need to select species that are exposed to high heat or droughty conditions such as along a south-facing wall, in a paved area or near air conditioning units, etc.



Root Pattern

Roots are the underground parts of plants. Roots perform two functions; first, to anchor and brace the crown, and second, to draw in a steady supply of oxygen, water, and minerals. It is important to understand the root patterns of plants if you are planning to propagate or transplant woodland species. The roots of trees, shrubs, and vines are divided into four types.

  • Shallow Lateral - These roots develop a fibrous mat up to four feet in depth and from 1½ to 3 times the reach of the crown. Shallow rooted plants are fast growing and easy to transplant. During times of low precipitation these plants show the first sign of water stress.
  • Deep Lateral - The young plants have taproots; as the plant matures lateral roots take over. These plants are usually fast growing.
  • Taproot - These carrot-like roots may grow down to a depth of 15 feet or more. Plants with taproots are able to tolerate drought because of the root's deep penetration into the soil. It is difficult to transplant mature plants.
  • Stoloniferous - A stoloniferous plant has a horizontal stem that runs on or close to the surface of the soil. New plants will sprout along the stem.


Planting Instructions

This field suggests how and when to transplant plants.



Plants are indicated "available" if they are offered from a native plant supplier. We do not recommend purchasing plants collected from the wild or collecting plants from the wild.


Community Importance

This information will help you to learn how influential a species is in a community in terms of numbers of individuals, size, where it is located in the canopy, and how often it is found in a woodland. Species with very high values tend to be dominant in the communities. Species with very low values are rare. Species with values in between are common or often present in the community. Use these values to determine dominant, common or rare species for the woodland community type you are planning.

These values (or statistics) are the result of the Plant Ecology Laboratory (P.E.L.) studies listed in the appendix of Vegetation of Wisconsin by John T. Curtis .

What do these values mean?

For Trees

  • Average Importance Value (I.V.) - The importance value measures the significance of a plant in a community. It is expressed as a total of its values for relative density, frequency and dominance. This value is expressed as a percentage.
  • Constancy - Indicates how often a species occurs in a stand. It is based on the number of occurrences a species is found in a specified area of each stand. The value is expressed as a percentage.

For Shrubs and Vines

  • Presence - Presence indicates how often a species occurs in separate stands of a woodland community type. It is expressed as a percentage of the total stands studied.
  • Frequency - Frequency is the measure of how common and widespread a plant is in a single stand of a woodland community. The value is expressed as a percentage. A plant with an 80% frequency occupies 80 out of 100 quadrats studied in one stand.


Associated Species

Associated species is a list of other plants that are often found growing with the featured plant.



Wildlife Uses

1) Wildlife value is listed first. Wildlife values are based on the number of wildlife users that eat the plant's fruit. The five categories do not include food value for leaves, stems, bark or roots.

  • Very High = 50 wildlife users or more
  • High = 25 to 49 wildlife users
  • Intermediate = 15 to 24 wildlife users
  • Low = 5 to 14 wildlife users
  • Very Low = fewer than 5 wildlife users

2) The second part includes a list of the kinds of wildlife that will eat the fruits.


Human Uses

This is a list of how the plant was utilized historically and how it is used today.


Interesting Fact

This fact might include a unique distinguishing feature or an ecological fact.