What is a Tree?

A tree is any woody plant that can reach a height of 15 feet or more at maturity and that usually is single-stemmed and has a crown, or branched-out area, at the top. That distinguishes trees from shrubs, which are woody but short and multi-stemmed, and from vines, which may be long and woody but lack a crown.

Minnesota's Own

To 52 species of trees, Minnesota is home. The Minnesota's Forest Treasures poster shows 35 of these "natives." Not shown are hemlock, American mountain ash, northern mountain ash, river birch, pin cherry, Kentucky coffeetree, rock elm, slippery elm (red elm), eastern hophornbeam (ironwood), American hornbeam (blue beech), black maple, mountain maple, red mulberry, black oak, chinkapin oak, northern pin oak, and swamp white oak.

Down to Basics

All of Minnesota's native species belong to one of two categories: gymnosperms or angiosperms.

Gymnosperms are trees whose seeds are not encased in a structure such as a fruit or nut. Most gymnosperms bear their seeds in cones, so they are also called conifers ("conebearers"), and have thin needlelike leaves that sometimes earn them the name needleleaf. Virtually all are evergreen, meaning they shed only a portion of their needles each year. People in the wood products industry often refer to coniferous trees as softwoods.

The second major kind of tree, the angiosperms, have covered seeds. Also known as deciduous or broadleaf trees, trees in this category drop their leaves each autumn. They are the ones that make the forest so colorful each fall. These trees are sometimes referred to as hardwoods (even though their wood is not necessarily harder than that of softwoods!).

Fun Fact!

image of red pineThe Norway pine, Minnesota's state tree, has nothing to do with Norway—in fact, in most places this species is called the red pine. It may have been given its "Minnesota" name by English settlers, who thought it resembled the Norwegian scotch pine. Others speculate that it took its name from the town of Norway, Maine, another locale where red pine was observed by early settlers.


To obtain more information about trees and their identification, try A Beginners' Guide to Minnesota Trees , an introductory book for youngsters to identify the 36 tree species native to Minnesota using symbols, illustrations and notes explaining the basics. Or check out our Minnesota native tree species webpage to see all of our 53 native tree species.

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