"Forest" is the name given to a habitat made up mostly of trees. There are many different kinds of forests. Some are old and some are young. Some have lots of small, skinny trees, while others have enormous trees with wide trunks. A forest may be made up of mostly evergreen trees, like pines, or it may be a deciduous forest, with trees that drop their leaves in the fall. Some forests are crowded, while others are "open," allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor. One large forest may be a mixture of all these things. Forests can also contain other habitats, such as streams, thickets, or meadows. Forests can be on mountainsides, or in a river valley. Here are some things most forests have in common:


The canopy is the topmost part of the forest, where most of the leaves of the trees are. The leaves' job is to gather sunlight so the tree can feed itself. This means the leaves and branches are usually only at the top of the tree if it's in a forest. A tree in a meadow may be leafy on all sides with branches near the ground, because it has sunlight all around it; but in a forest, trees are close together and shade each other. A forest tree's trunk is usually somewhat bare until it reaches the canopy.

Understory Trees:

An understory tree is a small tree that doesn't mind shade. Its leaves can get enough light even beneath the canopy. This means an understory tree is shorter than most of the trees in the forest. Understory trees are important cover for wildlife.

Forest Floor:

The floor is the bottom of the forest. It has several components, including ground cover, leaf litter, and logs and stumps. Many animals spend their entire lives on the forest floor and depend on these things for survival.

Ground Cover:

Ground cover is made up of shorter plants or fungi that grow close to the ground. The amount of ground cover depends on the type of forest it grows in. An open forest lets in more light and usually has more ground cover. A dense forest has a thick canopy with less light reaching the forest floor for ground cover to grow. Ground cover could include young trees, shrubs, ferns, wildflowers, weeds, mosses, and even mushrooms and other fungi. Ground cover is essential to many types of wildlife.

Leaf Litter:

Leaf litter (or needle litter) is another important part of a forest. Leaves and needles fall from trees and create a "carpet" on the forest floor. This carpet provides shelter for small animals. As dead leaves break down, nutrients return to the soil and provide food for trees and other plants in the forest.

Logs, Stumps, Rocks, etc:

A forest is filled with trees, of course, and trees die. This means every forest will have a variety of fallen logs, old stumps, and pieces of trunks and branches. These places are important habitat for animals. Rocks, small and large, are found in some forests. Pinecones, acorns, sticks, and other debris fall from trees to the forest floor as well.


Most forests have some sort of vines. There are different types of vines. Some wrap themselves around a tree when the tree and the vine are young. As the tree grows, the vine grows with it (grape vines are an example). Other vines attach themselves to a tree and climb up it over time. These vines usually have tendrils or rootlets that cling to the tree's trunk (poison ivy is an example of this kind of vine).


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