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Trees of Wisconsin

Gymnosperms of Wisconsin


The terms "gymnosperm", "conifer" and "evergreen" are often used interchangeably. There is considerable overlap among the three groups described, but each has a very specific meaning. Click here for a key to the Gymnosperms of Wisconsin or read on for a discussion of the terms.

refers to a distinct group of plants, sharing common ancestry and defined by (among other things) a method of reproduction in which seeds develop on the surface of cone scales, exposed to the environment. This character distinguishes the Gymnosperms from our largest group of plants, the Angiosperms, that bear their seeds inside an ovary (which develops into a fruit).

Conifers are simply plants that produce cones. All of the Gymnosperms of Wisconsin are conifers, although the cones of some species have been so severely modified that they appear quite different (see the species of Taxus or Juniperus). There are other gymnosperms elsewhere that are not trees and do not produce cones, at least not in the form that we commonly recognize. The best known of these non-tree gymnosperms are the cycads.

Evergreens are species that keep their leaves for more than one growing season. Most of our gymnosperms are evergreens, but one notable species (Tamarack) loses all of its needles in the autumn and gets new needles in the spring, much like our common deciduous trees. Also, some broad-leaved trees and shrubs are "evergreen", including some "holly" species of the eastern U.S. Even in Wisconsin we have several species of shrubs and even some herbaceous species that retain their leaves through the winter and so are evergreen.

All trees of Wisconsin

Links to other Wisconsin plants

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