Forests are often used in literature as places of mystery. They lie on the edge of civilization and provide homes to fantastic creatures of all sorts. But what is a forest scientifically speaking?

Although the exact definition of a forest is debated, sources tend to agree that it is, “a large tract of land covered with trees and underbrush. ” Stepping into a forest, you will notice that the ground is typically covered in roots, leaves or needles, seeds, and usually underbrush. Depending on what kind of forest you have stepped into, you might be able to see through the trees for hundreds of yards, or maybe just a few inches! Looking to the skies in a forest can provide a very disorienting feeling. For ages man has navigated using the stars and sun overhead as ways to track location, but in a forest, it’s possible to only see a broad leaf canopy above. There are three main types of forests which are determined by their latitude.

One type of forest is a tropical forest. These are found closest to the equator between the latitudes of 23.5 degrees N and 23.4 degrees S. Because of their latitude, daylight is much longer in these forests than in others (typically around 12 hours). Another difference in these forests is that they have two seasons: rainy and dry. Tropical forests also have highly diverse flora that create a large and dense tree canopy overhead.

A second type of forest is a temperate forest. These forests are located in North America, northeastern Asia, western and central Europe, and New Zealand. They have four seasons of spring, summer, fall, and winter, which allows for a growing season of about half the year. All four seasons produce precipitation. Flora is often more specific in these forests depending on the region, growing season, and precipitation levels. For example, temperate deciduous forests may contain maple, oak, and birch trees with underbrush of mosses, ferns, wildflowers and various shrubs while a temperate coniferous forest will contain mostly evergreen like cedar, cypress, Douglas fir, pine, spruce, and redwood. Regardless of the type of temperate forest, these are limited to much less variety within a sample area than a typical tropical forest and the tree canopy allows for more light to fall within the forest.

The final type of forest is a boreal, or taiga forest. These are only present between the latitudes of 50 degrees N and 60 degrees N, but are more profuse than any other terrestrial biome. Like tropical forests, boreal forests have only two seasons. Rather than rainy and dry, the seasons here are a short summer and a long winter, which allows for less growing time for the flora of the forest. Because of the low temperatures, the flora in boreal forests must be cold-tolerant which results a vast evergreen population and low light levels from the canopy of needles above.

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to the people. ” So why are forests so important? One benefit that forests provide is that they purify the air as they use photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide to oxygen in large quantities. This is especially important since carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that can cause global warming over time. The roots in a forests also keep soil in place and help groundwater become filtered before running into streams and rivers. This lends to the health of aquatic ecosystems and better water quality for humans and other terrestrial animals. When minerals have a chance to stay in the soil instead of wash away, it also produces better crops to benefit people and animals. The cover of trees and water retention in forests also provide a place for a myriad of animals to create homes. People use products from the forests as well as the trees themselves for items such as paper, food, construction materials, and so much more. Taking care of the world’s forests is a very important job.