Prairie Species
Urban Forest Species


Willow, cottonwood, boxelder, green ash, elm and bur oak are the most widely distributed and common trees along the rivers and streams of South Dakota and therefore have each been described on a separate factsheet. There are, however, many other tree species native to our prairie, particularly along the Missouri River between Nebraska and South Dakota. There are also
a few upland forests in our state, mostly concentrated in the northeast corner, that have trees unique to that habitat.

Sugar maple
(Acer saccharum)


The Lakota name for sugar maple is Canhasan , meaning "white bark tree." Sugar maple has an opposite, 5-lobed leaf and a pointed terminal bud. The bark tends to be smooth and dark gray in color. 

Related Species: There is a closely related species, known as black maple (Acer nigrum ). The primary difference between
the two maples is that black maple has a 3-lobed rather than a 5-lobed leaf. The differences are so minor that some botanists
consider black maple to be a variety of sugar maple (A. saccharum var. nigrum ) rather than a separate species. It is a native species from Minnesota to New England, and has been reported to be in Roberts and Marshall County. 

Black maple requires similar growing conditions as sugar maple, except it can also grow on the moist soils found near the
river. Black maple is used for the same purposes as sugar maple.

Sugar maple is found throughout northeastern United States. In South Dakota, it is limited to a few locations in Roberts and
Marshall County. It can be planted in southeastern S.D. and parts of the Black Hills. 

Sugar maple is found on fertile, upland, well-drained soils. It is usually located on the north-facing slopes where the
temperatures are generally cooler than the more exposed south-facing slopes. Sugar maple is a very shade tolerant tree and is part of the climax forest community.

Native Distribution for Sugar Maple 
Size: Sugar maple is a long-lived species, often over 300 years, and may reach 80 to 100 feet (24 to 30 m). However, the
champion sugar maple in S.D. is 67 feet (20 m) and is located in Sioux Falls.


Sugar maple is known for its hardwood , brilliant red-orange fall color, and maple syrup. The sap is collected in the spring
by drilling shallow holes into the trunk and placing a tap. The sap is collected in buckets and boiled to a syrup. It takes about
32 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. In late winter and early spring squirrels may gnaw off the tips of branches or
bark to feed on the sugary sap.

Silver maple
(Acer saccharinum)


The Lakota name for silver maple is Tashkadan . Silver maple has an opposite, 5-lobed leaf. The lobes are much deeper
than sugar maples and have a silvery underside. The bark is a light gray and is broken into long, scaly plates. 

Native Distribution for Silver Maple

Silver maple is found throughout the eastern United States. In South Dakota it is native to the extreme southeastern corner of
the state. It can be planted in most East River locations as well as the Black Hills.

Silver maple is a common floodplain species. It, along with many other floodplain species, matures it's seeds in the spring. If
they land on moist soils, they germinate quickly. Silver maple is moderately tolerant of shade and usually is found in
association with ash.

Size: In the milder climate of the eastern United States, silver maple can become 75 to 120 feet (23 to 37 m) tall. Our state
champion is located in Vermillion and is 60 feet (18 m) tall.


Silver maple is fast growing so it is a popular tree for windbreak and shade tree planting in the eastern half of South Dakota.
Its usefulness as a shade tree is limited by the tendency of the leaves to turn yellow, especially on alkaline soils where iron
is not available to silver maples. The American Indians made syrup from silver maple sap and a black dye from the twigs.
Silver Maple has weak, brittle wood so is not an important timber species.

(Celtis occidentalis)


The Lakota name for this species is Yamnúmnugapi , meaning "crunching with teeth." Hackberry has an alternate,
finely-toothed, ovate leaf that is lopsided at the base. The small round fruit becomes purple when ripe. The bark is grayish
and covered with distinctive warty projections. 

Native Distribution for Hackberry

Hackberry is found from North Dakota to Vermont and Oklahoma to North Carolina. It is found throughout most of South Dakota, except in the north-western quarter.

Hackberry is a floodplain species. In the western extreme of its range, however, it is often found in ravines or low areas. The
moisture conditions in these areas are more dependable than some rivers since the water drains in from the surrounding area.
The depressions also shelter the trees from the harsh winds and summer heat. Along the lower Missouri River, hackberry is
found on the upper slopes of the floodplain rather than in low areas.

Size: Hackberry is a long-lived tree, often reaching the age of 150 years. It can reach heights of 80 to 100 feet (24 to 30 m).
Our state champion is 65 feet (20 m) tall and is in Brandon.


Hackberry wood is fairly soft and coarse grained. It is only occasionally used for lumber. The primary use for hackberry is
as a shade and windbreak tree. The Dakotas used the hackberry berries as a flavoring for meat. The fruit is eaten by
pheasants, wild turkeys, robins and other birds.

Eastern redcedar 
(Juniperus virginana)


The Lakota name for this species is hante'. Eastern redcedar has an evergreen, scale-like needle. Instead of the typical cone
found on pines and spruces, it produces a small, round berry-like cone that is pale green to dark blue. Eastern redcedar is native to every state east of the 100th meridian and is the only evergreen tree native to the eastern half of South Dakota. It is now planted throughout South Dakota.

 Related Species: There is a closely related juniper, known as Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum ), found in
some west river locations, the Black Hills and on to the Pacific coast of Washington state. The two species are very close in
appearance and were considered as one species for many years. The primary difference between the two is that Rocky
Mountain juniper cones mature in two seasons instead of one. In South Dakota, Rocky Mountain juniper is found on dry soils
along with ponderosa pine.

Eastern redcedar is found on a wide variety of sites in the eastern part of its native range. However, it is limited to
bottomlands in the western, drier locations. Eastern redcedar is considered intolerant, but sometimes occurs as an understory
species in cottonwood forests along the Missouri.

Eastern Redcedar Native Distribution 
Size: Eastern redcedar is a long-lived tree, often surviving more than 200 years. Old trees are not common in South Dakota
since even light fires can injure the thin-barked tree. The tree can reach a height of 120 feet (37 m), but in Yankton our state
champion is 37 feet (11 m) tall.


Eastern redcedar is a common shelterbelt and windbreak species in our state, because of its tolerance to alkaline and dry
soils. It is especially desirable for wildlife habitat plantings. The American Indians used the cones in medicine and they are
still used as a flavoring in gin. The cones are eaten by many small mammals and birds.

Black walnut 
(Juglans nigra)


The Lakota name for black walnut is cansápa, meaning "black tree." This species has an alternate, pinnately compound leaf
with 15 to 23 leaflets . The bark is divided by narrow furrows and is grayish black in color. 

Native Distribution for Black Walmut

Black walnut is native throughout the eastern United States. It is found in the southeastern part of South Dakota and can be
planted in many communities east of the river.

Near the western limits of its range, black walnut is confined to moist floodplains. It is considered intolerant and occurs
commonly as scattered trees in a elm-ash-hackberry forest. Groves of walnuts may sometimes grow because the squirrels
buried the nuts in that location. Walnut roots release a toxin that is harmful to certain grasses and trees. This provides a
natural method of weed control which allows the walnuts to become established. Unfortunately, this same toxin is very
poisonous to vegetable crops such as tomatoes and potatoes so gardens must be kept away from walnut trees.

Size: Black walnut mature in about 150 years. It can be a large tree perhaps 70-90 feet tall (21 to 27 m). The champion in
South Dakota is in Sioux Falls and is 86 feet (26 m) tall and 98 inches (249 cm) in circumference.


Black walnut, because of its rich, dark heartwood and durability is a valuable veneer wood. In 1984, a single tree in
south-central Minnesota sold for $35,000! The nuts are also an important crop, with certain varieties of walnuts selected just
for their large, easily extracted nut meats. The American Indians found the nut an important food source. The nut was eaten
plain, mixed with honey or served in a soup. A black dye was also made from the nut husks.

(Prunus virginana)


The Lakota name for this species is Canpa'hu , meaning "bitterwood stem." Chokecherry has an alternate , oval, fine-toothed leaf. The white flowers occur during May. The reddish-black fruit ripens in midsummer. 

Native Distribution for Chokecherry

Chokecherry can be found throughout South Dakota. Chokecherry is very intolerant of competition. It is a pioneer species in recently disturbed soils, particularly along stream banks. Chokecherry does not tolerate flooding so it does not grow next to the stream or in low swampy areas. It is a common tree in the Black Hills, where it is an understory tree in ponderosa pine-quaking aspen forests.

Size: Chokecherry, as with many other cherry species, seldom lives more than 40 or 50 years. Chokecherry usually does not
become more than 40 feet (12 m) tall. South Dakota has not yet recognized a state champion.


Chokecherry has become a popular ornamental tree. Shubert chokecherry, a cultivar , is a small, flowering tree that has
purplish-colored leaves during the summer. Chokecherry is very important to the Dakota and Lakota cultures. A summer
month of the Dakota calendar is called Canpásapa-wi, "The month when cherries are ripe". The fruit was eaten fresh or
dried for winter storage. It was also used as the dried fruit in pemmican.

(Tilia americana)


The Dakota name for basswood is Hinta-can, meaning "hair's wood." Basswood has an alternate , heart-shaped,
coarsely-toothed leaf. The light brown bark is broken by shallow, vertical ridges.


Basswood is native from eastern North Dakota to New Brunswick and south from Kansas to North Carolina. It is found in the counties that form the eastern boundary of South Dakota and also along the Nebraska border from Union to Charles Mix County. Basswood can be planted in most East River communities, as well as the Black Hills

 Basswood does best on clay loam soils that occur on floodplains and upland depressions. It is not common on swampy or sandy soils. Basswood is a shade tolerant species that forms a climax community with sugar maple in the northeast corner of our state.

Native Distribution for Basswood

Size: Basswood live to be about 150 years old. They are susceptible to decay and large, old trees are often hollow. They
generally reach 80 to 90 feet (24 to 27 m) in height. The state champion is in Sioux Falls and is about 70 feet (21 m) tall.


Basswood is soft, stringy and not very durable. It is rarely used as lumber, but is sometimes considered a pulp species. The
American Indians used the stringy inner bark for making cords and ropes. Basswood flowers attract bees and are a source for
excellent honey. The most common use of basswood is as an ornamental tree. Basswood, along with its closely related
European species, little-leaf linden (Tilia cordata ), is a common sight in lawns throughout eastern South Dakota.

Publication of the Common Prairie Species fact sheet was funded by the S.D. Department of Agriculture, Division of
Forestry, Pierre, SD.