Chances are you either live in a forest or close to one. But, even if you traveled to a distant land, your local forest and all other forests have one thing in common...they are areas where trees and other woody plants dominate. All forests share some general characteristics too. They all have a top layer, called a canopy. It’s the place where the crowns of the trees meet. Forests have an understory layer, which is where smaller shrubs and young trees grow. Under all that is the forest floor, which, depending on how much sunlight filters through the canopy, may or may not be crowded with small plants. That doesn’t mean all forests look alike though. In fact, there is a wonderful variety of forests around the world.
There are three main types of forest: tropical, temperate, and boreal. Whether a forest is a tropical forest, a temperate forest, or a boreal forest, depends on the seasons and where on Earth they are growing.
Tropical forests grow near the equator. There are rainy and dry spells in the tropics, but there is never a winter. In fact, the temperature is about the same every day of the year! There are so many different kinds of trees in tropical forests that a small patch of forest can have100 different types. There are also many, many types of animals in tropical forests. Small, furry animals, insects, bats, and birds, like toucans and parrots, make tropical forests noisy, active places.
Temperate forests can be found in places where the temperature changes during different times of the year, such as the eastern part of North America, and some parts of Asia and Europe. There is a winter, but there is also a span of four to six months where there is no frost or snow. These forests get most of their moisture from rain. The trees in temperate forests usually have broad leaves that drop off in the Fall. Unlike tropical forests, there are fewer kinds of trees in temperate forests. A small patch of forest in temperate areas might have only three or four types of trees. Oak, maple, and elm trees are some of the tree types that grow in temperate forests. Squirrels rabbits, deer, mountain lions, fox, and black bears are some of the animals that live in temperate forests.
Boreal forests grow in places that are cold much of the time. They are found closer to the North Pole in North America, Asia, and Europe. Summers here are short and winters are long. Most of the moisture that falls on this kind of forest is snow. Conifers, trees that have needle-like leaves such as pine trees, grow in boreal forests. Moose, bear, wolves, deer, and chipmunks are animals that thrive in boreal forests.
All types of forests have some similar characteristics. All forests have a canopy, the level of a forest made up of the crowns of the forest trees. There is a forest floor, which is the ground level of a forest. In forests with a dense canopy, like a tropical forest, little light is able to penetrate the forest floor. That means, fewer plants are able to grow below the canopy.
All three types of forests grow in special situations. Small changes in the conditions in an area can change the type of forest that grows there. For instance, a boreal forest might grow on top of a high, cold mountain while the base of the same mountain might be covered in a temperate forest.
Where a forest grows also changes the way that forest helps the environment and the animals that live there. Forests that grow on the slopes of mountains help to hold soil in place as heavy rains or melting snow rushes down the hillside. Forests that grow in the moist soil surrounding streams and rivers tend to grow thicker than the surrounding landscape. These riverbank forests give animals a place to live that provides more food and easier access to water. They also help to keep soil in place. Forests that are isolated, like those on islands, tend to have fewer types of plants and animals, because new plant seeds and some animals have a tougher time reaching them. (Try to picture a squirrel swimming for miles to reach an island!!) Even the trees in a city combine to make an "urban" forest. These trees provide shade, help to clean the air, give animals a home, and make our neighborhoods more beautiful.
There are also old growth forests and new growth forests. Sometimes a forest begins on a bare patch of sand or a rocky area. Sometimes a new forest develops in an area where the forest has been cleared. First, fast-growing plants and baby trees, called pioneer plants, start to grow in the area. Next, larger plants and shrubs begin to overtake the smaller plants. Eventually trees move in and a new forest is created. As the forest ages, and the mixture of plants that make up the forest becomes stable, the forest is then called an old growth forest.
Our world would not be the same without forests. They absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release enormous amounts of oxygen. Forests influence weather patterns over large areas of the Earth and provide homes for many types of animals. And forests give us many of the products we use everyday, such as food, wood, and paper. Regardless of the type of forest, all forests enrich our daily lives and help us to survive.
A World of Forests Scavenger Hunt
Indoors Any Season
To help students identify the different forests of the world and some of the characteristics that differentiate them.
Use the Treeture, Sprig, as a guide, icon or symbol to help animate and enhance your lesson on forests, both old and new. Sprig is a Treedom Fighter who works to keep our forests safe and healthy. He protects old forests and helps to grow new forests. He can help you learn about some of the wonderful types of forests around the world.
- Old magazines, calendars, and other photographs with images of natural areas, plants, and animals.
- Copies of the scavenger hunt worksheet
- Scissors, glue, and poster board or large paper for each group of students
Using the background information, discuss with students the three main types of forests around the world and some of the special circumstances where they sometimes grow. Be sure to tell students how forests growing on mountains, on islands, along streams and rivers, and in urban areas function, and how a new forest changes into an old growth forest.
Begin by breaking students up into small groups and giving each group a copy of the scavenger hunt and a set of magazines, old calendars, or photographs. Also give each group scissors, glue, and poster board or large paper. (For younger students, you might want to read each scavenger hunt item aloud and have students look for the items one at a time.)
Give students plenty of time to look for pictures that illustrate the items on the scavenger hunt list. Tell students they may not be able to find samples of all the scavenger hunt items, but they should find as many as possible. Students should then cut out the pictures and glue them on the poster board. When all groups have finished, ask each group to share their findings with the rest of the class.
* The Treeture characters, as learning tools, can be adapted to any grade level. For example, students in grades K-1 could utilize coloring pages, finger puppets, and collages. Stories, poems, creation of new Treeture characters, newsletters, and plays could be fun and used as mentoring projects by 5th and 6th graders for younger students. Another entertaining and educational activity is to hold a Treeture Fair. This project has been successfully implemented in several schools. Each Treeture character can be enlarged and placed on an easel on a table with an appropriate experiment or example of its tree role.
Take the scavenger hunt outside! Bring students to a forest (including an urban forest) on or near your school grounds and have them hunt down the items on the scavenger hunt list. Be sure to tell students to only collect nonliving items or small plant samples. Animals sightings can be written down on a piece of paper.
Totally True Treeture Trivia:
- Trees from temperate and boreal areas grow in spurts...they grow fast in warmer months and slower during the winter. These growth starts and stops show up as tree rings inside the trunks and branches of these trees. Because trees growing in the tropics don’t experience a cold winter, their growth spurts are not affected by changing seasons, but by wet and dry spells that vary from year to year. And that means, tropical trees have less clearly defined tree rings!
- Some old growth forests are REALLY old. California redwood trees can be as old as 2,000 years!
America’s Forests by Frank Staub
A Forest Community by Elizabeth Massie
The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forests by Lynne Cherry
A great site that lists recreational opportunities on Federal Lands nation wide-
parks, camp sites, picnic areas, biking, wildlife viewing...www.Recreation.gov
A World of Forests Scavenger Hunt Worksheet
- an animal that might live in a boreal forest
- a picture of a tropical forest
- a forest on a mountainside
- a picture that shows where a new forest might grow in the future
- a tree that grows in a temperate forest
- a picture of a boreal forest
- an animal that lives in a tropical forest
- an urban forest
- an animal home in a forest
- a forest that grows along a river or stream
- a picture showing snow on a boreal or temperate fores
- a "leaf" from the type of tree that grows in a boreal forest
- a picture of a temperate forest
What does a tree in your backyard or park have to do with the other side of the world? Why should we care about a rainforest that’s far away? Both of these questions can be answered the same way. Trees and forests help to maintain weather patterns by absorbing and releasing water and important gases in our air. Trees also absorb pollutants, some of which may be changing world’s temperature and weather patterns. So the tree you take care of in your backyard, or the rainforest you protect, may help reduce the number of severe storms, droughts, or floods, somewhere else in the world.