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For information on Wisconsin's natural communities, contact:
Ryan O'Connor
Natural Heritage Inventory Ecologist

Black Spruce Swamp

State Rank: S3?     Global Rank: G5   what are these ranks?


Detailed Community Description from Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin

General natural community overview

Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for Black Spruce Swamp in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database.

Black spruce swamp is an acidic conifer swamp forest characterized by a relatively closed canopy of black spruce (Picea mariana) and an open understory in which Labrador-tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum) and Sphagnum mosses are often prominent, along with three-leaved false Solomon's-seal (Maianthemum trifolium), creeping snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula), and three-seeded sedge (Carex trisperma). The herbaceous understory is otherwise relatively depauperate. This community is closely related to open bogs and muskegs, sometimes referred to as forested or treed bogs.

Defining Characteristics and Similar Communities

Black spruce swamps are characterized by their strongly acidic peat soils, canopy dominated by black spruce and tamarack, and near-continuous layer of Sphagnum mosses. They are similar to northern tamarack swamps, which are also dominated by tamarack, but tamarack swamps tend to be more minerotrophic, often have a more discontinuous layer of Sphagnum, and have a higher prevalence of tall shrubs, usually at least 5% cover, and often up to 25% cover or more. Black spruce swamps often grade into muskegs, which are differentiated by having stunted trees with a lower canopy cover (generally 10-25%). They also often co-occur with and grade into open bogs and poor fens, which are distinguished by having even more stunted, sparser trees (generally less than 10% canopy).

Rare animals

Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

The following Species of Greatest Conservation Need are listed according to their level of association with the Black Spruce Swamp natural community type, based on the findings in Wisconsin's 2015 Wildlife Action Plan.

Scores: 3 = high association, 2 = moderate association, and 1 = low association. See the key to association scores for complete definitions.

Four-toed SalamanderHemidactylium scutatum2
Mink FrogLithobates septentrionalis1
Pickerel FrogLithobates palustris1

Aquatic and terrestrial snailsScore
Boreal TopZoogenetes harpa1

A Predaceous Diving BeetleAgabus discolor3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleHydroporus morio2
A Predaceous Diving BeetleHydrocolus persimilis2

Black-backed WoodpeckerPicoides arcticus3
Boreal ChickadeePoecile hudsonicus3
Connecticut WarblerOporornis agilis3
Gray JayPerisoreus canadensis3
Olive-sided FlycatcherContopus cooperi3
Ruby-crowned KingletRegulus calendula3
Spruce GrouseFalcipennis canadensis3
Swainson's ThrushCatharus ustulatus2
American WoodcockScolopax minor1
Golden-winged WarblerVermivora chrysoptera1
Long-eared OwlAsio otus1
Northern GoshawkAccipiter gentilis1
Rusty BlackbirdEuphagus carolinus1

Butterflies and mothsScore
Arctic FritillaryBoloria chariclea2

Dragonflies and damselfliesScore
Forcipate EmeraldSomatochlora forcipata2
Zigzag DarnerAeshna sitchensis2
Sphagnum SpriteNehalennia gracilis1
Subarctic DarnerAeshna subarctica1

Grasshoppers and alliesScore
Crackling Forest GrasshopperTrimerotropis verruculata1
Huckleberry Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus fasciatus1
Spotted-winged GrasshopperOrphulella pelidna1

Leafhoppers and true bugsScore
A Broad-shouldered Water StriderMicrovelia albonotata2

Little Brown BatMyotis lucifugus3
Northern Flying SquirrelGlaucomys sabrinus3
Water ShrewSorex palustris3
Silver-haired BatLasionycteris noctivagans2
Woodland Jumping MouseNapaeozapus insignis2
American MartenMartes americana1
Northern Long-eared BatMyotis septentrionalis1

Wood TurtleGlyptemys insculpta2

Please see Section 2. Approach and Methods of the Wildlife Action Plan to learn how this information was developed.

Rare plants

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

Scores: 3 = "significantly associated," 2 = "moderately associated," and 1 = "minimally associated."
Scientific Name Common Name Score
Pseudevernia consocians Common Antler Lichen 3
Vaccinium vitis-idaea Mountain Cranberry 3


The following Ecological Landscapes have the best opportunities to manage for Black Spruce Swamp, based on the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin Handbook.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Major (3 on map)
A major opportunity for sustaining the natural community in the Ecological Landscape exists, either because many significant occurrences of the natural community have been recorded in the landscape or major restoration activities are likely to be successful maintaining the community's composition, structure, and ecological function over a longer period of time.

Important (2 on map)
Although the natural community does not occur extensively or commonly in the Ecological Landscape, one to several occurrences do occur and are important in sustaining the community in the state. In some cases, important opportunities may exist because the natural community may be restricted to just one or a few Ecological Landscapes within the state and there may be a lack of opportunities elsewhere.

Present (1 on map)
The natural community occurs in the Ecological Landscape, but better management opportunities appear to exist in other parts of the state.


Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

What are conservation actions?

Conservation actions respond to issues or threats, which adversely affect species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) or their habitats. Besides actions such as restoring wetlands or planting resilient tree species in northern communities, research, surveys and monitoring are also among conservation actions described in the WWAP because lack of information can threaten our ability to successfully preserve and care for natural resources.

Threats/issues and conservations actions for natural communities


Black Spruce Swamp Photos

Black Spruce Swamp Photo

Dense black spruce swamp with well developed hummock hollow micro-topography in Sphagnum dominated groundlayer. Small ericaeceous shrubs are also present.

Photo by Andrew Galvin.

Black Spruce Swamp Photo

Mature conifer swamp with a canopy of black spruce and understory of Labrador tea and hummocky Sphagnum mosses-critical habitat for specialized boreal animals, especially birds, invertebrates.

Photo by Loren Ayers.

Black Spruce Swamp Photo

Black Spruce Forest, Sultz Swamp, Bayfield County.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Black Spruce Swamp Photo

Black spruce swamp

Photo by Ryan O'Connor.

Black Spruce Swamp Photo

Black spruce, occassional white pine, and leatherleaf and Labrador-tea are characteristic species of black spruce swamp.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor.

Note: photos are provided to illustrate various examples of natural community types. A single photograph cannot represent the range of variability inherent in a given community type. Some of these photos explicitly illustrate unusual and distinctive community variants. The community photo galleries are a work in progress that we will expand and improve in the future.

Last revised: Tuesday, August 30, 2022