Flat Leaves and Needles
In regions of the world where it's not extremely hot or cold (called temperate regions), the forests are full of trees with wide, thin leaves. These leaves absorb sunlight during the summer. But when the days start getting shorter in the fall, the leaves become dry, change color, and eventually drop off the trees. Trees that drop their leaves in autumn are called deciduous trees. Oaks, elms, ash, and beeches are a few of the deciduous trees that can grow in temperate forests.
Some temperate forests have trees with needles rather than leaves. Trees that have needles and cones, like pine cones, are called conifers. A forest with mostly conifers is called a coniferous forest. Because they stay green all year long, conifers are also called evergreens. Pines, firs, and spruce trees are conifers—and so are Christmas trees! A forest with both deciduous trees and conifers is called a mixed forest.
Unlike in a rainforest, where the temperature stays the same year-round, it’s easy to tell what season it is in a temperate forest. It’s warm in the summer, but it gets cool in the fall, and cold in the winter. Most temperate forests don’t get as much rainfall as tropical rainforests, but they do get enough rain—about 30 to 60 inches each year—to grow big trees. Certain trees in a temperate forest can grow up to 100 feet tall—that's as high as a seven-story building!
Temperate forests are found in eastern North America, northeastern Asia, and central and western Europe. In North America, the Eastern Deciduous Forest stretches from Florida to Maine along the east coast and as far west as Texas and Minnesota. The forest extends over 26 U.S. states and as well as parts of southern Canada.
Sherwood Forest in England, where the legendary Robin Hood is said to have lived, is a tiny forest—less than one square mile—but is home to over 900 big oak trees.
Squirrel in Backyard
Because the weather changes with the seasons, the animals that live in temperate forests have adaptations that allow them to survive in different kinds of weather.
Squirrels and chipmunks gather and store nuts in the fall, which they then eat in colder months when food is scarce. Some animals, like bobcats, grizzly bears, and timber wolves, grow thick coats to keep them warm in the winter. Other animals such as migratory birds and monarch butterflies avoid the winter months altogether by heading south. During warmer months, when many animals return, these regions are buzzing with the sounds of birds and insects.
If you visit a temperate forest, make sure you adapt to the season! Bundle up in the winter. And in the warmer months don’t forget bug spray and your bird guide!