Aims Forest trees alter litter inputs, turnover and rhizospheric activities, modify soil physical, chemical and biological properties, and consequently affect soil organic carbon (SOC) storage and carbon sink strength. That how to select appropriate tree species in afforestation, reforestation and management practices is critical to enhancing forest carbon sequestration. The objective of this study was to determine the effects of tree species on SOC density and vertical distributions.Methods A common garden experiment with the same climate, soil, and management history was established in Maoershan Forest Ecosystem Station, Northeast China, in 2004. The experimental design was a completely randomized arrangement with twenty 25 m × 25 m plots, consisting of monocultures of five tree species, including white birch (Betula platyphylla), Manchurian walnut (Juglans mandshurica), Manchurian ash (Fraxinus mandshurica), Dahurian larch (Larix gmelinii), and Mongolian pine (Pinus sylvestris var. mongolica), each with four replicated plots. A decade after the establishment (2013-2014), we measured carbon density and related factors (i.e., bulk density, total nitrogen concentration, microbial biomass carbon, microbial biomass nitrogen, pH value) in soils of the 0-40 cm depth for these monocultures. Important findings Results showed that tree species significantly influenced the SOC density in the 0-40 cm depth (p < 0.05). SOC density in the 0-10 cm depth varied from 2.79 to 3.08 kg·m-2, in the order of walnut > ash> birch > larch > pine, in the 10-20 cm depth from 1.56 to 2.19 kg·m-2, in the order of pine > walnut > ash > birch > larch, in the 20-30 cm depth from 1.17 to 2.10 kg·m-2, and in the 20-40 cm depth from 0.84 to 1.43 kg·m-2. The greatest SOC density occurred in the birch stands in the 20-40 cm depth. The vertical distributions of SOC density varied with tree species. The percentage of SOC in the 0-10 cm depth over the total SOC in the soil profile was significantly higher in the walnut and larch stands than in others, while the percentage of SOC in the 20-40 cm depth over the total SOC was highest in the birch stands. SOC concentration and soil bulk density differed significantly among the stands of different tree species, and were negatively correlated. SOC density was positively correlated with soil microbial biomass and soil pH in the walnut, ash, and larch stands, and with total nitrogen density in all the stands. We conclude that tree species modifies soil properties and microbial activity, thereby influencing SOC density, and that different patterns of vertical distributions of SOC density among monocultures of different tree species may be attributed to varying SOC controls at each soil depth.