What is Vegetation?

Wherever you go you will find landscapes that can leave you amazed. Whether in a rain forest, in a temperate forest or in the desert, the plants that have managed to adapt to each of these environments mean that, today, the planet on which we live is inhabited by many types of animals.

These living beings have been evolving for so long that it has been said that they are the real governors of the Earth, since thanks to the relationships they have established with a wide variety of insects, microorganisms, and even mammals among founding by humans, they have managed to colonize practically any corner, which each has its own vegetation.

What exactly is vegetation?

Vegetation is important to animals

Vegetation is a term that refers to the set of plants that grow wild in the soil or in an aquatic environment such as a swamp or a river. These plants can be wild, but also include those that have been cultivated by humans and that, for some reason, have managed to feral themselves.

What is flora and vegetation?

Both words can be confused, since they are very related. But it is important to differentiate them:

  • Flora is the set of plants that we find in a certain country.
  • Vegetation: it is the vegetation cover that exists in a territory where the climate is the same or very similar.

Vegetation types

Types of vegetation on Earth

Screenshot. Work done by Sten Porse.

All plant species depend on the climate in order to live, grow and, ultimately, settle in the area. Therefore, there are many types of vegetation, which are:

Frosty and polar desert

There is little vegetation in the polar desert

Image – Flickr / GRID-Arendal

They are places where less than 250mm of precipitation are recorded per year, and where the warmest month has a temperature below 10ºC . The plants we find here are small, and often take on rounded shapes, such as the Antarctic carnation ( Colobanthus quitensis ) or Antarctic grass ( Deschampsia antarctica ).

Tundra

The tundra has low-growing plants

Image – Wikimedia / ADialla

In Russian tundra means »treeless plain», and it is that in these flat lands the only thing that grows are herbs, mosses and lichens. The conditions are not as extreme as in the frozen desert, but also very low temperatures are recorded (there can be -70ºC in winter) and fall between 150 and 250mm of precipitation per year.

Taiga

Taiga is a cold-weather biome

In this biome, we begin to see conifers, which are the ones that best withstand the cool temperatures, as well as trees such as elms, oaks, or certain maples the further south.

About 450mm of average precipitation falls a year, and temperatures are around 19ºC in summer and -30ºC in winter .

Deciduous temperate forest

Deciduous forests are common in the temperate region of the planet

In this forest we will see mainly deciduous trees, such as beech ( Fagus ), or elm (Ulmus) since in winter temperatures can drop to -20ºC and even more. However, both the mild temperatures of the rest of the year and the precipitations, which are abundant and fall in a well-distributed way, contribute to their ability to grow without problems for several months.

Temperate steppe

The temperate steppe has extreme weather

Here we will see a treeless landscape again. The climate is extreme , both can be very hot (40ºC or more) and drop to -15ºC. In addition, it rains little, about 250mm a year, so only the best adapted plants live, such as many grasses and aromatic herbs.

Subtropical jungle

The subtropical forests have plants of all kinds

They are places where rainfall is very abundant, with an average of 1000 to 2000mm, and if we talk about the temperatures, they do not usually drop below 16ºC in the middle of winter , nor rise above 31ºC in summer. Therefore, many plants feel very comfortable here: travelers’ palm ( Ravenala madagascariensis ), many palm trees such as Dypsis lutescens or coconut palm ( Cocos nucifera ), etc.

Mediterranean vegetation

Mediterranean forest has drought resistant plants

Or Mediterranean forest. The plants are characterized by being very resistant to drought and high temperatures close to 40ºC, such as the carob tree ( Ceratonia siliqua ), or the olive tree ( Olea europaea ). It rains little, in fact they do not usually register more than 500mm a year (although there are areas where it is possible to register 1000mm), and when this water falls, it usually does so in spring and autumn; that is, summer becomes the hottest and driest season .

Monsoon forest

The monsoon forest is a seasonal forest

It is a type of seasonal tropical forest in which semi-evergreen plants and semi-evergreen trees predominate. It is an extreme biome, with a season with very abundant monsoon rainfall, and another station in which it hardly rains. Even so, the average annual precipitation is about 2000mm . There are no frosts; in fact, the lowest temperature is above 10ºC.

Arid desert

There is little vegetation in the desert

Image – Wikimedia / Diego Delso

There are hardly any plants here. Annual rainfall is around 100mm, and even less in certain deserts such as the Atacama for example, where it only rains every 15 years or more; and temperatures can exceed 40ºC.

Xerophytic shrub

Cacti live in arid regions

In this place, the conditions are a little better than in the arid desert. Temperatures can be very high, 40ºC or more, and rainfall is less than 200mm. Despite this, many cacti live there, such as Pachycereus pringlei .

Dry steppe

In the dry steppe there is little variety of plants

It is a type of biome with a semi-arid continental climate in which between 200 and 400mm of precipitation are recorded per year, and temperatures ranging from 26ºC in summer and -18ºC in winter. As for plants that inhabit it, we have wormwood (Artemisia), Festuca, or Stipa, among others.

Semi-arid desert

The semi-arid desert has succulents like agaves and cacti

Image – Wikimedia / brewbooks

In this type of deserts, between 500 and 800mm of annual rains fall, but the average temperature is above 18ºC . Thus, it is common to see shrubs and steppes, and also many succulent and similar plants, such as agaves, Ferocactus or peyote (Lophophora).

Herbaceous savanna

The herbaceous savanna is mainly composed of herbs

They are plains inhabited by herbaceous plants. It is so hot during the day and during a good part of the year (maximum 40-45ºC) and the drought can be so extreme that practically no tree could survive it.

Wooded savanna

The wooded savanna are landscapes where generally deciduous trees inhabit

It is a type of savanna in which very high and minimum temperatures of over 10ºC are registered, but where rainfall is around 100-200mm a year . Therefore, some trees grow, such as the baobab (Adansonia).

Subtropical dry forest

Subtropical dry forest has deciduous trees

Image – Wikimedia / Adbar

Plants such as the Chilean carob tree ( Prosopis chilensis ) or the white quebracho ( Aspidosperma quebracho-blanco ) grow in it . Annual rainfall is between 500 and 1000mm , and the annual average temperature is between 17 and 24ºC.

Rain forest

The rain forest is abuzz with plant life

Also known as equatorial jungle or humid tropical forest, with maximum temperatures of 35ºC, with an average of between 25 and 27ºC . In addition, it must be said that these hardly change throughout the year, which added to the fact that rainfall is generally abundant, 1500mm a year, makes it possible to find more than 600 tree species in just one hectare. Likewise, many palm trees are natural to these areas, such as Euterpe and even some Chamaedorea.

Alpine tundra

The alpine tundra is a biome with very cold climates

These are areas where the lowest temperature can be -70ºC, and the maximum temperatures do not usually reach 20ºC. Small plants grow here, such as the creeping willow ( Salix repens ), or the arctic poppy ( Papaver radicatum ).

Montane forest

Conifers abound in the mountain forest

Also known as mountain forest. They are generally landscapes in which conifers abound, as well as deciduous trees, where the average temperature is from 8 to 15ºC .

What is the role of vegetation in nature?

Vegetation is important to animals

Vegetation is essential so that the rest of the beings can live and also do it well taking into account the characteristics and evolution of each one. Therefore, it does not have a single function, but rather it has several.

Perhaps the most important is that thanks to it, many biogeochemical flows are regulated, such as those of water without which none of us would be here, or that of carbon. Likewise, they can modify the characteristics of the soil, since the leaves, flowers, fruits, and branches that fall into it, decompose, releasing the nutrients that were used to manufacture them.

Finally, they are the refuge of countless animals and microorganisms and are often their main source of food. Humans, for example, consume the fruits of many trees, such as apple trees, orange trees, and almonds, not to mention that we protect ourselves from the sun under their branches.

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