Whether a tract of beech-maple woods in Wisconsin or a lush cove forest in the North Carolina highlands, the temperate deciduous forest of the eastern U.S. showcases a great diversity of plant life. Similar to other extensive examples of the biome in Eurasia, the ecosystem in North America is dominated by broadleaved hardwoods that lose their leaves for part of the year in response to the region's winter stress. The browns and greys of a deep-winter wood are balanced by a profusion of flowers from spring through fall.
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Temperate Deciduous Forest
In North America, the temperate deciduous forest covers broad areas of the eastern part of the continent. It reaches a kind of zenith in the Southern Appalachians, one of the most floristically diverse places in the temperate zone and exemplified in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The ecological gradient expressed across the broad north-south and east-west expanses of the American deciduous forest is significant: In the Upper Midwest, for example, a mixed hardwood forest of birch, sugar maple and American basswood grades into the southern limits of the taiga, while a Georgia swamp flourishes with bald-cypress, water tupelo and sweetgum.
Understory and Groundcover
In the Appalachians, the blooms of rhododendron are among the flashiest native flowerings, brightening cove forests and high ridges alike with pink and white sprays. The white-to-pink blooms of trilliums are another early harbinger of spring, studding forest floors with brightness. The Great Smokies are lauded for their wild flower show, beginning with trilliums, hepaticas and other early blooms to the asters, mountain gentians and coneflowers of late summer and autumn.
The blooms of many flowering trees in the temperate deciduous forest are less obvious to the average human visitor, either because they are naturally small and inconspicuous, like those of elms, or simply because of their position up in the canopy. Some, however, like crabapples and flowering dogwood, are well-known for their showy flowers, emblematic of springtime in the eastern and southern woods.
Pollination strategies in the deciduous forest are varied. Many trees, like shagbark hickories, depend mainly on wind to disperse pollen and facilitate reproduction. Deeper and lower in a wood, wind is less influential, so many plants depend on animals. Bumblebees, hummingbirds and hawk moths, for example, pollinate the striking wild flower called jewelweed, with flowers adapted to those creatures' long tongues. The diversity of shapes, colours and sizes of flowers in the deciduous woods is a reflection of plants targeting different pollinators.
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