What Is A Forest?

Simply stated, a forest is where trees grow, however the Maine forest is not simple. It is home to many organisms ranging from spruce trees to spruce grouse, nematodes to nuthatches – and the non-living environment that supports them.

While it is common to refer to the Maine forest as one forest, the state is really home to many different types of forests. In fact, the forests of the state are among the most biologically diverse in North America and include 14 conifer, or cone-bearing trees, and 52 deciduous, or broadleaf trees.

Natural Forest Communities
Certain tree species tend to grow together as a result of similar preferences for soil type, amount of water, temperature and sunlight. Closely associated tree species and plants, animals and microbes interact in what is known as a forest community type.

Twenty-five forest community types are found in Maine; of these, eight are rare types. Because of the unique geographical position of the state, which straddles the colder spruce and fir forests of Canada to the north and the warmer hardwood forests to the south, some forest community types are rare because they are at the northern or southern limits of their growing range.

For example, the oak-hickory forest type and the Atlantic white cedar swamp are found only in southern Maine where temperatures remain milder in the winter than elsewhere in the state.

Major Forest Types
The Maine forest is divided into three forest types; each named for the most dominant, or most numerous, tree species found within that type. Many other tree species grow within each of these general forest types.

Spruce and Fir Forest
Spruce and fir forests make up 35% of the Maine forest. Spruce-fir is common in Aroostook, Penobscot, Piscataquis and Somerset counties. Red spruce, white spruce, black spruce, balsam fir and white cedar dominate this type. Wintergreen, bunchberry and lowbush blueberry grow in the understory and moose, gray jays and red squirrels make their home here.

Northern Mixed Hardwood Forest
Hardwood, or deciduous trees that lose their leaves in the fall, cover 54% of the Maine forest. The dominant species are sugar maple, American beech, yellow birch, white birch, and aspen (also known as poplar or popple). Conifers, such as eastern hemlock and eastern white pine, are often found in this type. White-tailed deer, hermit thrushes, painted trillium and pink ladyslippers thrive in this forest type.

White Pine Forest
Much, but not all, of the remaining 11% of the Maine
forest is composed of eastern white pine, the Maine State Tree. The White Pine Forest type is found mostly in the southern part of the state though white pine grows throughout the state and occurs in the other forest types as well. White pine and red oak dominate this type, which is home to gray squirrels, chipmunks, mayflowers, wild sarsaparilla
and trout lilies.

Non-Forested Areas
While not technically forests, two non forested types bear mentioning. In the northern part
of the state, mostly in Aroostook County, the land is agricultural. Elsewhere, non- forested areas are primarily taken up by residential development.


Describe the forest around your school or your home. What trees, plants, flowers and animals do you find? Are they consistent with the major forest types shown on the map?   

Forest Fact
American larch, also known as tamarack and hackmatack in Maine, is mostly found in wet areas. Larch is the only native conifer that is deciduous – it loses all its needles in the fall just like a sugar maple loses its leaves.

PLT Activity #8: The Forest of S.T. Shrew

By taking a shrew’s eye view of life in the woods, students gain an appreciation for the variety of living things in a forest, and for the variety of habitats within forests.

PLT Activity #27: Every Tree for Itself
Students explore conditions that trees need to live and grow and learn that trees must compete for their needs.

Maine Forests Forever
for tree pictures & info
Maine Natural Areas Program
National Wildlife Federation