Deciduous forest: what it is, types and flora

A deciduous forest is made up of plants that lose their leaves.

A deciduous forest is a place where all life, both plant and animal, must fight to survive in a more intense way than in a humid tropical forest for example. And, as temperatures can change over the months, and the rains are generally seasonal, to get ahead they have to make the most of the warm temperatures to, on the one hand, stay alive, and on the other to accumulate reserves that will help them overcome the worst season of the year.

It is also the place where humans can be aware of the action of nature and how the climate impacts it, in a way that is more difficult to see in other places.

What is the definition of deciduous forest?

A deciduous forest It is one in which plants predominate, especially trees, which lose their leaves at some time of the year. But depending on the location, two are distinguished, let’s say, subtypes:

  • Temperate deciduous forest: is what is known as aetisilva or estisilva. As its name indicates, it is found in the temperate regions of the world, at a latitude between 35º and 50º. Within this group, the marcescente forest is included, which is one in which the trees do not shed their dry leaves until spring.
  • Deciduous tropical forest: or dry forest. It is also called dry forest or hiemisilva. It is found in latitudes with this climate, as well as in the subtropics. Here, there is a very long dry season, lasting 4 to 9 months, but the rest of the year temperatures remain between 25 and 30ºC and with abundant rains.

Let’s take a closer look at the characteristics of each one.

Temperate deciduous forest

Temperate forests run out of leaves in winter

Temperate forests lose their leaves in winter

This kind of forest enjoys more or less frequent rains throughout all the monthswhich helps the plants grow without too much trouble. In addition, because leaves are constantly falling, apart from other organic matter (animal excrement, for example), the land is very fertile.

The seasons, as we said, are very well defined: spring, summer, autumn and winter. Average annual temperatures are always above 0º, with maximums of 30-35ºC and minimums of up to -20ºC.. Depending on the altitude above sea level, as well as how close or far the place is from the equator, the temperatures will be more or less mild.

Plant adaptations

When I was starting out in the world of gardening, I saw a documentary in which it was said that the leaves of deciduous trees in temperate climates could not withstand frost and snowfall. It is something that caught my attention at that time, because at that time I had already become fond of seeing photos of maples and beech trees in their natural habitats, where it can be very cold in winter.

What I did not know was that, indeed, the leaves are tender and do not have the means to survive these conditions. Not like many conifers, which produce their own antifreeze, thus protecting themselves from ice and snow. But a maple cannot be asked to maintain its foliage in winter. In return, once all its leaves have fallen, in spring you can regain some of the nutrients you have lost.

And that is precisely one of the adaptations that they have developed. But not the only one. In fact, to be able to live you have to breathe, and to be able to breathe you need to be hydrated. But when a plant runs out of leaves, it reduces its need for waterand apart from that it retains what it keeps inside (and yes, they continue to breathe, but through the lenticels they have on the trunk and branches).

Another interesting topic is that, when the forest runs out of shade and the weather begins to improve, in winter / spring, many plants are used to grow. For example, the English forest is especially striking (and beautiful, by the way), when it is covered with forest hyacinths (its scientific name is Hyacinthoides non-script). But, in those corners where not much light reaches, ferns and other small plants, such as mosses or wild flowers, grow.

Deciduous plant types of temperate forests

The Acer campestre is a typical tree of the temperate deciduous forestThe Acer campestre is a typical tree of the temperate deciduous forest

Image – Wikimedia / Rosenzweig

There are many that we can find in a temperate deciduous forest. So many, that we could make a long list and surely we would leave many. Therefore, we are going to mention the most abundant in Spain:

  • Gender Acer:
    • country maple
    • sharp opal (He too Acer opalus subsp. garnet)
    • acer and gundo
  • birch hornbeam
  • castanea sativa (Chestnut)
  • Fagus sylvatica (is)
  • Genus Quercus:
    • Canarian oak
    • Quercus coccifera
    • Quercus petraea
    • Oak

Deciduous tropical forest or dry forest

View of the dry tropical forest

View of the tropical dry forest

Now let’s talk about the tropical deciduous forest, or dry forest. This is also found in both hemispheres, between 10 and 20 degrees latitude.. It is common for there to be one between a rainforest and a savanna or subtropical desert. The climate is warm, with temperatures around 20ºC, which can reach 30ºC, and as it rains in abundance for many months in a row, the plants can grow well, until the dry season arrives.

Depending mainly on the rainfall, several types are distinguished:

  • Tropical dry forest: Temperatures are around 25-30ºC, and between 300 and 1500mm of precipitation falls per year.
  • Subtropical dry forest: temperatures are lower, staying above 15-25ºC. Rainfall is between 500 and 1000mm.
  • Monsoon rainforest: it is the one in which it receives 2000mm of precipitation per year in a few months, and where there is a dry season.

The best known are those of the Gran Chaco or the Tumbes Region (South America), or the dry forest of Madagascar and New Caledonia.

Plant adaptations

Plants that live in a dry forest they tend to lose their leaves when the rain starts to run low. But unlike what happens in temperate regions, the climate remains warm; In other words, they not only stop feeding their leaves due to the lack of water, but also because the temperatures continue to be warm. It would be as if in the Mediterranean almond trees lost their foliage in the middle of summer, instead of in winter (which is the usual thing).

But it is interesting that many typically deciduous tropical species, can be evergreen if in more humid areas. An example of this is the flamboyant (Delonix direction), a natural tree from the dry forest of Madagascar. This, when grown for example in a tropical garden, where it receives all the water it needs, maintains its foliage all year round; but as it is planted in a dry area, it will lose it, leaving only the trunk and branches until the rains return.

Deciduous plant types of dry forests

The saman tree is deciduousThe saman tree is deciduous

Image – Wikimedia Commons / Alexander Bayer Size

We have mentioned the flamboyant, but there are many other plants. It is important to say that in this type of forest there is not as much variety as in the rain forestsbut they do concentrate a greater number of plants that are useful for humans, either because they have some edible and / or ornamental use. For example there are:

  • Genus Acacia:
    • acacia farnesiana
    • acacia tortilis
  • Genus Delonix:
    • Delonix adansonoides
    • Delonix floribunda
    • Delonix decaryi
    • Delonix direction (flamboyant)
    • Delonix tomentosa
  • same summonsor the rain tree
  • Genus Swietenia (the mahogany tree):
    • Sweetness is low
    • Swietenia macrophylla
    • Sweet mahogany

As you can see, there are several types of deciduous forests. Each one with its own characteristics, and its own flora that makes it a unique place.

Deciduous forest: what it is, types and flora

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