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Article #9, March 1998
By Bill Cook

            How many trees are there in the Upper Peninsula?  Hmmm.  Good question.  The 1993 forest inventory says about 5.7 billion!  That’s one tree for every person in the world!  What did you say?  You don’t want to count the saplings?  Well, then we’re talking about 1.7 billion trees.  That’s almost seven trees for every person in the USA.  Everybody uses trees and “our” products from the U.P. go around the world.

            How many tree species are there in the U.P.?  Another good question!  Do you want to include species that have been brought here from somewhere else?  When does a shrub become a tree?  The answer is more difficult than the question.  Arguably, there are about 37 native tree species in the U.P. and perhaps 50 if you include the introduced species or count big shrubs. 

            So, what’s the most common U.P. tree?  Hmmm.  Whew, another good question!  Sugar maple is the winner by all counts.  If you consider just the number of trees, including saplings, the next four most common species would be fir, cedar, red maple, and quaking aspen.  Not counting saplings or if you use tree volume, it’s the same five species but in different orders.  Tree volume is probably the most common measure of tree presence.  The top five species make up about 58 percent of all timber volume in the U.P.  By the way, if the entire U.P. forest were cut into cords and laid side by side, the pile would wrap around the world about 4.5 times.

            The biggest tree in Michigan?  Well, the biggest tree I know of is a cottonwood.  The tallest is a white pine.  “Big” depends on how you define it.

            Knowing about individual tree species is interesting and valuable, but it only tells part of the forest story.  Certain tree species like to grow with certain other species.  These are called “forest types”.  Two types make up most of the U.P. forest, northern hardwoods and swamp conifers.  However, the composition of these large types varies quite a bit.  Just like every fourth grade class is different!

            Some forest stands are nearly pure to a single species, sometimes called a monotype.  This is often an entirely natural condition.  Aspen, sugar maple, and cedar sometimes grow in nearly pure monotypes.  So do red pine plantations.  Other forest stands have a broader diversity of tree species. 

            Forest types have different “personalities” with a variety of forest management options.  Many sugar maple stands can be managed with an individual tree selection system.  Over time, this will provide multiple age classes, reduced tree diversity, and increased timber quality.  On the other hand, aspen requires a clearcutting system to maintain the type and all the benefits that go along with aspen.  Of course, there are other forest management options and variations depending on the forest type and the landowner objectives.

            There are many important reasons to learn about forests, but my favorite is that forests are just plain cool.  The issues are sometimes complex, even with such simple questions such as “what’s the most common tree” or “how many tree species are there”? That’s why we have foresters and other natural resource professionals.

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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at cookwi@msu.edu or 906-786-1575.

Prepared by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005 J Road, Escanaba, MI  49829
906-786-1575 (voice),  906-786-9370 (fax),  e-mail:  cookwi@msu.edu

Use / reprinting of these articles is encouraged. Please notify Bill Cook.
By-line should read "Bill Cook, MSU Extension" Please use the article trailer whenever possible.

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