Colours of a Biome: Deciduous Forest Edition

We’re heading out of the hot desert heat and into a land with lots of greens.

The deciduous forest is full of…well deciduous trees! The word deciduous refers to the kind of trees that lose their leaves in the winter. These are different from coniferous trees, also known as evergreens, which stay green all year long. Throughout the seasons there are huge changes to the deciduous forest. In the fall the leaves change colour and start to die off. In the winter the trees are bare as the forest protects itself from the cold. As spring approaches heavy rainfall helps life bounce back and by summer the biome is lush and green again.

European Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

red squirrel
Red Squirrel

Details: Despite its name, this squirrel’s fur can be grey as well as red. They grow tuffs on their ears and are famous for their fluffy tails.

My Hood: Throughout the forests of Europe, Northern Asia and Siberia

How I fit in: Red Squirrels don’t need to hibernate, they have a few tricks up their sleeves that help them survive the winter. In the fall they pack on the pounds and hide food that they will dig up later in the year. They also build strong dreys (nests) often in the fork of a tree trunk, which protects them from the cold and keeps them dry. Although they usually like to keep to themselves, when it gets really cold, related squirrels will share dreys to keep warm.

Weeping Milk Cap (Lactarius volemus)

weeping milk cap, mushroom
Weeping Milk Cap. Photo Credit: Walter J. Pilsak

Details: This mushroom can grow over 10cm high and 5-10 cm wide! When this mushroom is young it is an orangey colour, but as it ages it turns pale yellow. Don’t worry if you can’t identify it by colour, just take a strong whiff – if it smells fishy you’ve probably found one. The Weeping Milk Cap is a very sensitive organism; they bruise easily and will turn brown if you touch them.

My Hood: In the forests of Europe, eastern U.S., and southern Canada from June to September

How I fit in: Like most Fungi, the Weeping Milk Cap is a decomposer. This means it gets its nutrients by breaking down dead organisms. These decomposers are like the clean up crew of the forest, breaking down material and keeping things (like all those fallen leaves) from a piling up.

L. R. Hesler and Alexander H. Smith North American Species of Lactarius. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1979: Page 162-165

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, butterfly
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Details: Males are yellow with black stripes. Females may look similar to the males or completely black. Their wings can grow up to 7.6cm.

My Hood: This butterfly ranges east of the Rocky Mountains to Ontario and can be found as south as northern Mexico

eastern tiger swallowtail, female, dark form, butterfly
Female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail in Dark Form. Photo Credit: Megan McCarty

How I fit in: You may find it strange that females of the same species can look so different from one another. It all has to do with survival and protection. The butterflies with the yellow and black pattern will flap their wings when in danger, distracting predators with flashes of colour. The all black butterflies, on the other hand, mimic the appearance of the Blue Swallowtail, a horrible tasting butterfly. This case of mistaken identity will make a potential predator think twice before taking a bite.

Northern Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina)

Northern Lady Fern
Northern Lady Fern

Details: This flowerless plant grows fronds (the leafy branch), which are covered in pinnae (the small leaflets). The Northern Lady Fern differs from its cousin to the south by its frond shape. This fern is largest in the middle, whereas the largest part of the Southern Lady Fern is closest to the stem.

My Hood: In the wet woods and swamps of North America, from Saskatchewan to Nebraska and Virginia. It is also found in southern Greenland. Although they love the deciduous forest, this fern can also be found in the Taiga biome of North America and Eurasia.

How I fit in: This fern is extreme adaptable. Without water the Northern Lady fern will shrink and become brittle. However, when water returns, it sprouts new fronds and continues to grow as it did before. This helps it survive any dry spell the deciduous forest might experience through the year. They also are an important food source in the deciduous forest, providing snacks for Grizzly bears and Elk.

Boughton Cobb, Elizabeth Farnsworth, and Cheryl Lowe Ferns of Northeastern and Central North America. New York: Peterson Field Guides, 2005: Page 85-88

Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea)

Cerulean Warbler
Cerulean Warbler. Photo Credit: Mdf

Details: This short tailed songbird grows only 12cm. Males are bright blue with white and black accents, while females have less blue with some green and pale yellow.

My Hood: This Warbler makes its home in mature deciduous forests from Ontario and Quebec west to Nebraska and Minnesota and southeast to Texas and other Gulf states. It is even found in the Happy Valley Forest, home to the Jefferson Salamander. During migration they cover approximately 2,500 miles to reach their breeding grounds in Northeastern South America.

How I fit in: The Cerulean Warbler spends most of its time in the canopy of the forest, which provides excellent cover from predators. Deforestation poses a big threat to these beautiful birds both in the deciduous forest and their wintering grounds in South America.

Liverleaf (Anemone hepatica – previously Hepatica nobilis)

liverleaf, flower
Liverleaf. Photo Credit: Ettore Balocchi

Details: This member of the buttercup family grows violet-blue, white or pinkish flowers. They bloom during February and May. It gets its strange name from the shape and colour of its leaves. These funky leaves are dark green with lobed edges that turn reddish as the plant ages.

My Hood: Found in Canada, U.S., Europe, Asia, and other areas of the Northern Hemisphere.

How I fit in: The Liverleaf spreads its seeds with the help of ants. The seeds have special ant attracting arms called elaiosomes, which are full of nutrients. The ants collect the seeds and take them back to the nest. Once the elaiosome has been eaten, the rest of the seed is thrown away and can begin to grow into a plant in its new home.

More splashes of colourful biomes are coming your way soon. In the meantime, find out what a biome is and the different types that can be found on Earth. Up next: the Tundra!

To find out more about the deciduous biome check out these links:

April Pulley Sayre Temperate Deciduous Forest. Connecticut: Twenty-First Century Books, 1994: Page 5 – 11

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