Walking through a forest can be a mystical and enchanting experience. However, there is also a lot to learn from a deeper consideration of the forest floor.
In deep forest, very little sunlight gets through to the ground. So in the woodlands, particularly if they remain damp for much of the year, there is often a thick carpet of non-flowering vegetation such as lichens, moss and ferns. Fungi are also common on forest floors, even though you can only see the visible parts of toadstools or mushrooms poking up for short periods of time. There are a few wildflowers that do well in the filtered light of the woods, such as trout lilies, trillium and wood anemones.
Moss is essential to growth in most forests because it holds in moisture well. This sponging ability to hold water is crucial in the process of spreading reproductive cell material to meet other members of their species.
Plant life in the woods can greatly differ depending on what kind of trees shelter the plants and are called upon to nourish them. If a forest is very coniferous, there will be much less plant growth beneath the trees, because the falling needles create acidity in the soil. If the forest has many broad-leaved trees it will tend to more heavily carpeted undergrowth as its litter provides more plant nourishment.
Fern growth is common in forests, sometimes throughout the year, and you will see various varieties of ferns on hillsides, sometimes vining, or growing from tree stumps or in rock ledges. Some types of ferns may turn to fall colors and shed leaves in autumn similarly to some trees, but there are others that stay green and thrive all year long.
The lichens seen in the woods consist of a joining of fungus and alga, sometimes looking as thick as a tossed salad, other times appearing as thin and haphazard as though a child finger painted them onto a rock.
The litter dropped onto the forest floor from trees is not only a nourishing mulch for rooting and topsoil, but is protective of the plant life. It keeps the soil in the woods from constantly thawing and refreezing throughout the winter. It also keeps the ground from becoming parched and dry in the spots where hot sun may get through.
The next time you take a walk through the woods, you may wish to crouch down, perhaps with a magnifying glass, and take a closer look at the lovely lush carpeting of the forest floor.
Joy of Nature, p. Reader’s Digest 1977