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Plant & Animal Life of Europe

Updated February 21, 2017

Europe is drenched in forests. Mountain ranges, open valleys, meadows, lakes, rivers and streams course through the continent. Deciduous and coniferous forests hold abundant plant and animal life from wild mushrooms to wild bison. Plant and animal life, stretching from southern Italy into England, east to Poland and west to Spain, tell the history of the continent. Ancient forests through centuries of war and fledgling cities have been, as of 2010, largely replaced by towns and industrial cities. However, the European Forestry Commission and UNESCO World Heritage, along with other environmental protection agencies, support the preservation of the remaining natural habitats.

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Facts & Figures

According to ForestEurope.com, a website provided by The Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe, forests cover 44 per cent of Europe's land area. As of 2010, 25 per cent of forests on the planet exist in Europe. Roughly 80 per cent of these European forests are in the Russian Federation.


During the times of the Romans, small groups of Germanic tribes cut into the thriving deciduous forests to clear paths, grow crops and raise livestock. In the Middle Ages, people cut huge chunks of deciduous forest for fuel, agricultural land and building fortification walls and lookouts for castles and towns. According to BluePlanetBiomes.com, an educational website about Earth habitats, the Age of Exploration in Europe was disastrous for European forestry. Explorers ploughed through ancient forests, using the wood to build cities and ships, like the ones Columbus and Cortez used to discover the New World.

Deciduous Plants & Animals

At one time Europe was drenched in deciduous forests, those with leafed trees. Oak, elm, birch, lime, and alder trees stretched in leafy swathes north into Scotland and Ireland and south into Germany and France and east toward to the Ural Mountains in western Russia.

Typical European deciduous forest plants include carpet moss, a velvety, kelly-green growth covering tree trunks, rocks and forest paths; the common lime, a tall tree which in the U.S. is called the linden; the lady fern with its lime green fronds; and the guelder rose, a white flowered plant that also grows in American forests.

Some animals that thrive in deciduous European forests include the European red squirrel, the fat dormouse, a chubby, weasel-like mouse, and the red deer, what Americans call the elk. The European bison, though still marching on in European woods, still faces extinction from centuries of hunting.

Coniferous Plants & Animals

According to Inch-in-a-Pinch.com, a forest preservation education website, the Earth's largest conifer forests---those with evergreen trees---spread mostly over the northern hemisphere due to climate. Coniferous forests often cover mountainsides, dotting the hillsides with pines and spruces. Europe has both kinds of conifer forests, open lichen woodland with spaced trees and lichen webbing between them, and closed forest, with packed trees and shady, moss-covered floors.

Typical European coniferous plants include the lodgepole pine; ferns, a species that has thrived since the Jurassic period over 300 million years ago; black spruce trees, and assorted mushrooms, like the rosy russula with a ruby-red cap.

Coniferous animals include the great grey owl, found nesting and hunting in northern Europe and the Soviet Union; the common loon, an ancient waterbird species, and the green whip or western whip (Hierophis viridiflavus), a snake species found slithering in Andorra, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, Spain, and Switzerland.


As of 2010, the only natural forests that survived all the pummeling and looting of ancient times are royal hunting preserves, like the Bialowieza Forest on the border of Poland and Belarus. The plant and animal life inside this forest excite and inspire environmentalists who can study inherent European species.

As one of the biggest and most preserved forests in Europe, ancient trees in the Bialowieza have joined branches that form a uninterrupted canopy. The Bialowieza Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979, is home to the European brown bear, foxes, wolves, wildcats and herds of European bison that are, like the plant life, protected under European law from any danger or destruction.

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About the Author

Noelle Carver

Noelle Carver has been a freelance writer since 2009, with work published in "SSYK" and "The Wolf," two U.K. literary journals. Carver holds a Bachelor of Arts in literature from American University and a Master of Fine Arts in writing from The New School. She lives in New York City.

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