Flowers & Plants Found in Temperate Forests

Primroses grow in temperate, deciduous forests.
••• primrose image by Studio Pookini from Fotolia.com

Forest biomes are regions of the world dominated by trees. It is estimated that forests cover approximately one-third of the Earth's land. Forest biomes are divided into three broad categories: temperate, tropical and boreal forests. Environmental factors such as climate, geography and resource availability determine the differences between the types of forest biomes.

Forest Biome Geography

Temperate forests​ are found across mid-latitudes throughout Europe, China, Japan, the coasts of North America, New Zealand, southern Australia and Chile, extending to Argentina. Hot, wet, ​tropical forests​ are found closer to the equator. Snowy ​boreal forests​ are the coldest forest type, occurring closer to the North Pole, spanning Canada, Alaska and Russia.

Temperate Forest Environment

Temperate forests feature ever-changing seasons with cool winters and hot summers. The average daily temperature ranges from minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit in winter to 86 degrees Fahrenheit in summer. Temperate forests have a moderate average annual rainfall of 30 to 59 inches.

Trees in the Temperate Forest

To cope with seasonal changes, many plants in the temperate forest have specific adaptations. For example, trees such as oaks (​Quercus​ spp.) and maples (​Acer​ spp.) have leaves that turn orange, yellow or red in autumn and fall to reduce the risk of snow or frost damage in winter. In spring, they sprout new leaves that will conduct photosynthesis and allow the trees to grow.

Other trees, like conifers (Pinophyta), which also dominate boreal forests, have different strategies to adapt to freezing conditions in winter. These trees, including pine (​Pinus​ spp.), spruce (​Picea​ spp​.​) and fir (​Abies​ spp.), have flexible branches and thin needle-type leaves, allowing snow to slip through. Their needles are evergreen, enabling photosynthesis year-round, and waxy, which helps prevent excess evaporation in summer.

Temperate Forest Plant-Fungi Network

Though water is limited and temperatures cool compared to tropical forests, trees can still grow to vast sizes. To support their growth, plants connect their tree roots to a vast fungal mycorrhizal network that spreads throughout the forest soils. Via their roots, plants share excess sugars produced through photosynthesis with the fungi in exchange for the movement of nitrogen and other vital nutrients. Some trees have even been found to use this network to feed their offspring growing nearby, supporting their growth during juvenile years.

Plants That Grow in the Temperate Forest

Temperate forest understories are full of temperate forest plants such as shrubs and forbs. ​Shrubs​ are small to medium-sized plants with woody stems, such as blueberries (​Vaccinium​ spp.) and camellias (​Camellia​ spp.). ​Forbs​ are small, non-woody flowering plants like lilies (​Lilium​ spp.) and orchids (Orchidaceae family). Forest edges and gaps tend to be filled with herbaceous temperate plants such as grasses (Poaceae family) and sedges (Cyperaceae family).

Temperate Forest Parasitic Plants

Most plants obtain their nutrients through photosynthesis. Parasitic plants steal their nutrients from other plants. One of the most famous temperate forest parasites is the mistletoe (Santalales order). Instead of burrowing their roots into the ground, mistletoe burrows them into the branches of host trees.

Another parasitic plant in temperate forests is the Indian pipe or ghost plant (​Monotropa uniflora​). Unlike mistletoe, which derives some of its nutrients from photosynthesis, ghost plants are pure white and take all their nutrients from the underground mycorrhizal network. Strange, parasitic plants are not unusual in temperate forests; bright red snow plants (​Sarcodes sanguinea​) have a similar parasitic strategy to ghost plants.

Temperate Forest Animals

A wide variety of animals call temperate forests home. Similar to temperate plants, temperate forest animals have adapted to the seasonal changes. Like squirrels and chipmunks (Sciuridae family), some animals store food in caches during autumn to sustain them through the sparse winter months. Migratory birds and monarch butterflies (​Danaus plexippus​) fly to warmer areas during winter. Other animals, like black bears (​Ursus americanus​), hibernate to conserve energy, while others stay active but use their warm coats or feathers to stay warm.

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