Difference between the temperate forest & rainforest

Written by lindsey fisher | 13/05/2017
Difference between the temperate forest & rainforest
Tropical rainforests are defined by being located between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. (Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Temperate forests and rainforests can refer to the same thing in the form of a temperate rainforest, however, they don't have to. The main difference between temperate forests and tropical rainforests is their location. The location in turn contributes to climate, type of foliage and the way it looks.


Temperate forests are in both the northern and southern hemispheres between the tropics and the polar regions. Temperate rainforests are usually close to continental coasts. Tropical rainforests are located in the tropics around the equator. The tropics are defined as beign between the Tropic of Cancer, 23.5 degrees north of the equator, and the Tropic of Capricorn, -4.72 degrees C south of the equator.


Temperate forests have a moderate climate. In this type of climate, four seasons occur. Precipitation in temperate forests is in the form of rain and snow and varies in amounts depending on the location. Tropical rainforests receive up to 400 inches of rain per year. Temperate rainforests get about 100 inches of rain per year. Temperate forests, whether they're rainforests or not, are cooler than tropical rainforests.

Foliage and Flowers

Tropical rainforests have many broad-leafed trees that are much taller than trees in other regions. They also have hundreds of tree species. Flowers including orchids and bromeliads grow in tropical rainforests. In temperate rainforests, trees with needles are typical, as well as ferns and mosses. Only about 10 to 20 different tree species grow in temperate rainforests. Three types of trees grow in temperate forests: deciduous trees, or trees that loose their leaves in the fall and grow them back in the spring; coniferous trees, or trees with needles and seeds that form cones; and broad-leafed evergreens, or trees with large, leathery leaves that don't fall off when seasons change.


Tropical rainforests are very green, dense and moist. They have four layers, including the forest floor, the understory, canopy layer and emergent layer. These layers contribute to the dense look with foliage everywhere. Temperate rainforests look more ancient and worn than tropical rainforests, with many dead logs lying around and trees in many different stages of life. Temperate rainforests also have layers and dense forest floors. Temperate forests are less dense, with needles, leaves and sticks littering the forest floor and little underbrush in the form of pine bushes and small wildflowers.

Other Differences

Tropical rainforests are home to trees that are between 50 and 100 years old, while temperate rainforests are home to trees upward of 1,000 years old. The decomposition rate is rapid in tropical rainforests and slow in temperate rainforests.

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