Interesting facts about conifers or coniferous forests range from how conifers pollinate to the wildlife and other plants that thrive in the coniferous biome. As the name implies, coniferous forests are dominated by conifers, trees that grow cones instead of flowers. Coniferous forests include the large boreal forest, which lies just below the tundra of polar regions.
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Cold Climate Forest
While coniferous forests are found in many types of climate, their needle-like leaves and soft wood help them to survive in extremely cold climates. The waxy outer coat of the needles helps them to retain water in freezing temperatures, and the soft wood gives flexibility to their branches, which bend under snow, allowing the snow to slide off easily. In all climates, the needles that fall off the conifers decompose so slowly that the soil becomes acidic. Conifers, unlike many other trees, can tolerate this acidic soil.
Animals and Plants
Animals living in the cold boreal forests of North America include wolves, foxes, bears, reindeer, moose, woodpeckers, hawks and owls. Siberian tigers live in Asian boreal forests. Snakes, frogs and other cold-blooded, vertebrae animals are rarely found in boreal forests due to the cold. Animals living in temperate coniferous forests, which tend to have mild winters, include deer, elk, marmot, spotted owl, black bear and salmon.
Because the coniferous forest understory does not receive much sunlight, most of the plants that thrive in the environment are mosses, ferns and herbs.
The boreal (also called the taiga) forest, a coniferous forest, is the largest terrestrial ecosystem on Earth. Boreal forests encircle the globe just below the polar tundra, covering massive amounts of land in North America, Siberia, Scandinavia, Alaska, and Eurasia. The forest includes lakes, bogs and rivers.
The trees in conifer forests, like the trees of the Amazon rainforest, make up one of the earth's largest carbon reservoirs, which means that the forest stores carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere where it would otherwise accelerate global warming.
Another type of coniferous forest is temperate forest in which conifers dominate, as opposed to deciduous, temperate forests. These are found in North America, Asia and Europe in mountainous areas where winters are milder and damper than in the boreal forests. Dry coniferous forests thrive at high mountain elevations, and moist coniferous forests are found in areas where most of the precipitation occurs in the winter and where winters are mild.
While typical tropical forests grow near the equator, subdivisions of this forest type are found at much higher latitudes. For example, evergreen rainforests, named as such because they have no dry season, are found in the Pacific Northwest.
Conifer forests are mostly temperate forests, but 300 million years ago conifers dominated even tropical forests, where they provided food to plant-eating dinosaurs.
As a botanical family, conifers, specifically coastal redwoods, are the tallest and largest, living trees documented on the planet. Most of the world's tallest conifers have been found in California in Redwoods National Park and Humboldt State Redwood Park and stand from 360 to 379 feet.
The oldest living tree found on Earth is a conifer, a bristlecone pine in the White Mountains of California. The tree has been named Methuselah, and it is over 4,000 years old.
Unlike flower pollination, the conifer's seed (ovulate) cones depend on the wind rather than insects and birds for delivery of pollen. "This primitive, shotgun approach to pollination accounts for the huge quantity of pollen each tree produces," writes naturalist Jim Conrad. While only one grain of pollen is needed for fertilisation, millions blow in the wind from one cone. This is nature's way of ensuring that in spite of the shotgun approach, pollination will take place.
Conifers are known by botanists as gymnosperms, meaning "naked seed, because the seeds usually grow on the outside of the cone's scales without any covering. The conifer's pollen is released from fuzzy, worm-shaped stamen that protrude from clusters of pine needles. Conifers stand on the evolutionary time line between the earlier spore producing plants such as moss and ferns that once dominated forests and flowers, with their more targeted pollination.
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- NASA Earth Observatory: Coniferous Forest
- World Wildlife Federation: Coniferous Forests
- Natural Resources Defense Council: The Boreal Forest
- University of California Museum of Palentology: The Forest Biome
- United States National Arboretum: Conifer Collection
- Backyard Nature; Conifers; Jim Conrad; October 2009