Forest Biomes of North America

Forest Zones Predicting Existing Tree and Plant Communities

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Nix, Steve. "Forest Biomes of North America." ThoughtCo, Sep. 11, 2017, thoughtco.com/forest-biomes-of-north-america-1343454. Nix, Steve. (2017, September 11). Forest Biomes of North America. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/forest-biomes-of-north-america-1343454 Nix, Steve. "Forest Biomes of North America." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/forest-biomes-of-north-america-1343454 (accessed October 23, 2017).

A forest biome is the broadest regional classification of a plant and animal community recognized by botanists and forest scientists. A forest biome is a zone where a predictable tree, plant, and animal community exists resulting from the effects of climate, soil, the presence or lack of moisture and other physical and topographical variables.

Not all these biome classifications have significant natural and native trees, but they have been included for perspective and conditions that limit tree growth. Learn about the typical trees found in these biomes.

North American Forest Biomes

North American Forest Biomes. University of Tennessee

In North America, the broadest biomes are:

  • Tundra
  • Boreal
  • Deciduous
  • Desert
  • Prairie
  • Mixed evergreen and deciduous
  • Tropical
  • Montane
  • Temperate and tropical rainforest
  • Mediterranean scrub.

Not all of these biomes support native trees. You can expect to provide support and conditions conducive to tree growth in several of these communities.

Arctic Tundra. National Park Service

Tundra means rolling treeless plains. The normal weather is frigid and dry winters with cold and moist summers. In North America, arctic tundra is found in northern Alaska, Canada, and Greenland.

You can expect a native "tree" to be extremely small and in the willow family. The two most common trees are arctic willow and diamond-shaped willow. Deep-rooted trees cannot survive due to the permafrost.

Alternate names for this biome are alpine tundra, wet tundra, and dry tundra. More »

Boreal Forest. Steve Nix

This forest is located in the very northern portion of North America including most of Canada and atop high-altitude mountains in the United States. The normal weather is frigid, long, and dry winters with short, cool, and moist summers.

You can expect to find fir, spruce, larch, aspen, and jack pine. The boreal forest separates the tundra from the temperate forest.

The alternative names for the boreal forest biome are subalpine and taiga. More »

Rocky Mountain Evergreen Forest

Rocky Mountain Evergreen Forest. Colorado State University

Montane is a term for a forest on mid-level elevations on mountains. The normal weather is cold and moist winters with mild and moist summers.

You can expect to find Douglas fir forests with western white pine, western larch, grand fir, and western ponderosa pine.

Alternate names are Rocky Mountain steppe and montane forest. 

Pacific Coast Evergreen Forest

Pacific Coast Evergreen Forest. National Park Service

It is interesting to note that this is one of the largest temperate rain forests. The Pacific temperate rain forests lie west of the Pacific mountain ranges, from southern Alaska to northern California. The normal weather is mild and very moist winters with mild and moist summers.

Trees include Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, redwood, western red cedar, alder and bigleaf maple.

The alternate name is temperate rain forest.

Northern Mixed Forest

Northern Mixed Forest
Northern Mixed Forest. USFS

The normal weather is cold and moist winters with mild and moist summers.

You can expect to find beech, maple, Eastern hemlock, yellow birch, white pine, and Northern white cedar.

The alternate names are northern hardwood-hemlock and transitional mixed forest. 

Eastern Deciduous Forest

Eastern Deciduous Forest
Eastern Deciduous Forest. Steve Nix

The majority of the trees drop their leaves at the end of the typical growing season in a deciduous forest. This biome is found east of the Mississippi River. The normal weather is cool/cold and moist winters with warm and moist summers.

Trees you can expect to find include beech, maple, yellow poplar, oak - hickory, mixed pine-hardwood. The alternate name is transitional mixed forest.

Coastal Plain Mixed Evergreen Forest

Coastal Plain Mixed Evergreen Forest
Coastal Plain Mixed Evergreen Forest. Steve Nix

You will find this biome on the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains down to the sea. There often are sluggish streams, marshes, and swamps. The normal weather is cool/mild and moist winters with hot and moist summers.

The trees you can expect to find include beech, maple, yellow poplar, oak, hickory, and mixed pine-hardwood.

The alternate name is southeastern mixed evergreen forest. 

Mexican Montane Forest

Mexican Montane Forest
Mexican Montane Forest. UGA/Soil Science

These forests are found in the mountains of Mexico. The alternate names are tropical montane forest and cloud forest. The normal weather is mild and dry winters with mild and moist summers. There are a wide variety of species, many of them unique.

Central American Rain Forest

Central American Rain Forest
Central American Rain Forest. UTK/Botany

The alternate names are tropical rain forest and selva. The normal weather is warm and very moist winters with hot and very moist summers. There are a vast array of species of trees.

Great Plains Grasslands

Great Plains Grasslands
Great Plains Grasslands. USGS

Oak, maple, hackberry, dogwood, cottonwood, and cedar can be found in Great Plains grasslands, especially in river systems. The normal weather is cool/frigid and dry winters with hot and moist summers. The alternate names are prairie and steppe.

Tropical Savanna

Tropical Savanna
Tropical Savanna. UT

The normal weather is warm and very dry winters with hot and moist summers. Tropical savanna is dominated by grasses.

Alternate names are West Indian savanna, tropical thorn scrub, tropical dry forests, and Florida Everglades. 

Cool Desert

Cool Desert
Cool Desert. Steve Nix

The alternate names are Great Basin desert and high plain. The normal weather is cold and dry winters with warm and very dry summers. Plants are widely scattered and sagebrush often predominates. In semi-arid places, plants include creosote bush, bur sage, white thorn, cat claw, and mesquite

Hot Desert

Hot Desert
Hot Desert. Steve Nix

These areas include the Sonoran, Mojave and Chihuahua deserts. The normal weather is mild winters and very dry winters with hot and very dry summers.  Plants are mainly short shrubs and short woody trees. Plants include yuccas, ocotillo, turpentine bush, prickly pears, false mesquite, agaves, and brittlebush.

Mediterranean Shrub

Mediterranean Shrub
Mediterranean Shrub. UT-Schilling

The alternate name is Californian chaparral. The normal weather is mild and moist winters with warm and very dry summers. Trees can include oak, pine, and mahogany. North facing slopes get more moisture and may have manzanita, toyon, scrub oak, and poison oak. South facing slopes are drier and may have chamise, black sage, and yucca.