What types of trees grow in Indiana?

Picture of forest stream.

Picture of forest floor.

Picture of dense forest under-growth.
How many different types of trees grow in Indiana? FIA investigates and measures all trees on each inventory site (plot). More detailed information is gathered on trees larger than saplings or with a trunk measuring greater than 5 inches in diameter at 4½ feet above the ground, also called diameter at breast height (DBH). They must be healthy, sound, and reasonably straight. These larger trees are considered “growing stock.” More than 85 different types of trees grow among the growing stock found in inventory plots throughout Indiana.

Some trees only grow in the wettest of soils, like the baldcypress, eastern cottonwood, and river birch; others prefer very dry soil conditions, such as scarlet oak, blackjack oak, and chestnut oak. Most tree species grow on soils that are not necessarily too wet or too dry; however, each species has specific needs that, when met, allow them to flourish. Soil depth, the direction the hillside faces, the hill’s incline, and the position of the tree on the hill determine the types and growth potential of trees located on the site.

Picture of snow covered forest road.

Figure 10 illustrates the most abundant trees and the number found within each survey unit. Each full tree in the figure corresponds to 2 million trees. Tree species underscore each cluster of trees. The size of each tree is proportional to the number of trees it represents. Tree quantities less than 400,000 are not represented. Each unit has its own suite of trees due to the unit’s general characteristics

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   Figure 10
Figure 10 - Map of Indiana tree types.

The Northern Unit includes many different types of growing conditions due to its large area (approximately 60 percent of the state). Tree communities along Lake Michigan prefer sandy soil and cooler climates. Trees located within the northern lakes region of northeast Indiana and in the mid-section of the state grow on rich, glaciated soils. Of the inventoried plots, only pumpkin ash is unique to the Northern Unit. All other northern species inventoried are also located in the other survey units (photo in Figure 11a).

Northern Unit Major Forest Types - pie chart. Picture of Northern forest.
Figure 11a

The Upland Flats Unit closely resembles the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky. Most of the unit has rich, moderately moist sites that support many different species of trees along its rolling hills and ravines. Of the inventoried plots, yellow buckeye was found only in the Upland Flats Unit. This species is more typical in Ohio than in Indiana forests (photo in Figure 11b).

Upland Flats Major Forest Types - pie chart. Picture of river running through Upland Flats forest.
Figure 11b

The Knobs Unit contains some of the hilliest country in Indiana. As a result, the area supports trees that prefer very dry sites and ridgetops, as well as those that prefer very wet sites, ravines, or “bottomland.” Tree types unique to the unit include blackjack oak and swamp tupelo. Part of the unit stands on sandstone bedrock; other areas developed over limestone. This difference accommodates a variety of trees and their associated flowering plants and shrubs. The Knobs Unit contains the highest number of trees in state (photo in Figure 11c).

Knobs Major Forest Types - pie chart.   Picture of forest growth in Knobs Unit.
Figure 11c
The Lower Wabash Unit contains many wet sites and “bottomlands” due to the convergence of the Ohio and Wabash Rivers. The unit’s environment resembles that of the Gulf Coast rather than the Great Lakes. As a result, some vegetation and animal life have responded to this environment in a like manner (Jackson, 1997). Trees such as the baldcypress and swamp cottonwood are naturally more abundant here than in other parts of the state. The higher, drier portions of the unit provide growing sites for most of the common tree species found in the other parts of Indiana (photo in Figure 11d).

Lower Wabash Unit Major Forest Types - pie chart. Picture of river running through Lower Wabash forest.
Figure 11d

Trees are often found in associations called “forest types.” Major Indiana forest types are consistent throughout the survey units. They contain primarily hardwood trees with deciduous leaves. Trees of this type have broad leaves that bud each spring, change color in fall, and drop before winter arrives. There are very few natural softwood, conifer (cone bearing), or evergreen trees in Indiana. Eastern redcedar is by far the most abundant evergreen native to Indiana. However, areas of native Virginia pine are found in southern Indiana; eastern white pine in northern Indiana.

Major forest types include maple-beech, oak-hickory, elm-ash-cottonwood, aspen-birch and eastern redcedar-oak-pine. Maple-beech includes black cherry, black walnut, and yellow birch. Oak-hickory includes yellow poplar. Figure 11 shows the percentage of the major forest types by survey unit. In the Northern, Upland Flats, and Lower Wabash units, maple-beech is the most abundant forest type. Knobs is the only unit where oak-hickory is more abundant than the maple-beech forest type.

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    Figure 11
Figure 11 - Indiana Counties.

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