Learn which plants thrive in your Hardiness Zone with our new interactive map!

Plants of a Temperate Deciduous Forest

By Nichole Mayers
Autumn in a deciduous forest
Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

Deciduous forests are located in temperate climates, between tropical rain forests and coniferous forests. The largest are in the middle of Europe, eastern North America, Japan and China. They are also in temperate zones in South America, including Chile and Paraguay.

These forests are characterized by a change of seasons, with trees that lose their leaves in the winter and grow in the spring.

Zones of the Deciduous Forest

Beech tree
Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

The deciduous forest biome consists of five layers of plant life. The first zone is the tree stratum zone. This zone contains large trees, including beech, walnut, maple, elm, chestnut and hickory. The trees in this zone are large, some as much as 100 feet tall.

The second zone is the small tree and sapling zone, the third zone is the shrub zone, the fourth is the herb zone and the fifth zone is the ground zone.

The Tree Stratum Zone

Oak trees thrive in wet or dry areas
Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

The most prominent feature of the deciduous forest is the tree stratum zone, due to the size of the trees, which range from 60 to 100 feet tall. This zone is also referred to as the "canopy."

The beech tree can be found in deciduous forests in the eastern part of the United States. They grow between 90 and 100 feet tall and their branches can reach from 50 to 70 feet in diameter. The expansive branches block sunlight at its base, preventing the growth of other plants beneath the tree. The tree's roots are expansive as well, absorbing much of the moisture in its vicinity.

The lime tree is found in deciduous forests in Europe. These trees can grow as tall as 130 feet and can live up to 500 years. The hickory tree is tall and straight and can grow up to 100 feet tall. They're found in deciduous forests among oak trees, and have long roots that tap into deep wells during times of drought. They're found in the eastern forests of the United States. The oak tree can grow from 80 to 100 feet tall and their branches are from 50 to 80 feet in diameter. They're found in the eastern forests of the United States and can grow to 600 years old. Oak trees are sturdy and can thrive in wet or dry areas.

The Small Tree and Sapling Zone

Young sapling
Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

The small tree and sapling zone is sometimes referred to as the "sub-canopy." Young trees between 10 and 60 years old are within this zone. Their height reaches just below the tree stratum zone's canopy, and once they have an opening to grow, these trees become the canopy.

Saplings and seedlings are also a part of this zone, with trees that are older and past their critical growth phase, but then never attain the height to be a part of the tree stratum zone due to the density of the branches of the canopy above.

The Shrub Zone

Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

The third zone is the shrub zone and generally contains azaleas, rhododendrons, mountain laurel, the guelder rose and huckleberry shrubs, depending on region.

Shrubs to avoid include poison suman, characterized by its white clusters of fruit. Prickly ash is another to avoid, as it snags onto clothing and skin.

High bush cranberries bear edible fruit, small and red, that are made into preserves. Thorn apples are also from shrubs, and look like little apples. Honeysuckle shrubs are prolific and make walking through a deciduous forest decidedly difficult.

The Herb Zone

Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

The herb zone of the deciduous forest consists of tall plants. The plants in this zone vary based on region; however, blue bead lilies, ferns and wildflowers that don't require strong sunlight are common.

The Ground Zone

Moss on a tree trunk
Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

The ground zone of the deciduous forest is home to various moss and lichen. Moss is a plant with no flowers or roots. They, along with lichen, tend to grown on rocks and bark and thrive on bare soil and in a moist environment. Lichen is a group of plants closely related to fungi and algae. Moss and lichen are found in abundunce in deciduous forests, on trees and carpeting their base.


About the Author


Nichole Mayers began writing in 2000 as an online columnist. She also wrote promotional material for JIN restaurant and Subterranean sandwich shop in Washington, D.C. and for the recruitment firm MosAL Consulting. Mayers has written press for comedian Victor Torres and prepared a monthly newsletter for Soule Restaurant in Brooklyn, N.Y. She holds a B.A. in English from Montclair State University.