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Taiga is called the Russian boreal forests or coniferous forest in other countries.
Taiga is a Russian word meaning “cold forest”.
Taiga lie north of Russia and Siberia, northern Europe, in the region of Hudson Bay in northern Canada and in the state of Alaska.
It is bounded to the south by the north by steppe and tundra.
The Southern Hemisphere does not have taiga areas because the land portion in the latitudes in which it is located, is very small.
The climate is extremely cold and wet.
Life is very hard for the animals in winter, so the animals often migrate to warmer latitudes or hibernate.
The taiga is the largest forest tract on the territory of Russia. Primordial forests, they preserve the memory of times when humanity was just beginning, while the wildlife of the taiga attracts admiration because of its richness.
The boundless forest stretches for thousands of kilometers (7000 km from east to west), a forest that has no end or border. Sometimes it spreads across marshy lowlands, sometimes, like a dense blanket, it covers gently sloping mountains and hills, and sometimes it clambers up rocky ridges. This boundlessness and monotony are characteristic features of the largest forest in the world, called the taiga.
The average July temperature in the taiga, as a rule, is 10-18˚C. The summer is short, the winters are cold, there is abundant precipitation and a blanket of snow that takes a long time to melt.
There is a distinction in the composition of the vegetation between the dark coniferous taiga (spruce, fir, Siberian and cedar pine) and the light coniferous taiga (forest pine, larch, some American species of pine).
The dark coniferous forest is the most widespread type of taiga. Spruce provides very strong shading, only plants that tolerate shade well can exist beneath its canopy. Special taiga soils are formed here, unlike any other. They are covered with a thick blanket of moss, lichen, and decaying coniferous needles. The various types of moss remain green all year round and always look the same. They are green when they disappear beneath the snow, and green when they emerge from it.
The species of trees here tolerate shade well. This can be explained by the fact that their needles are able to carry out photosynthesis in low light.
Among the plants found in spruce forests there are a great many that have white flowers. Come to a spruce forest in the spring and the beginning of summer, and you will see the corollas of the crab apple, starflowers, and other typical denizens of spruce groves. This is an adaptation to the weak light beneath the canopy of the spruce forest. White flowers are better than any others, they are visible in the semi-darkness, and are the easiest to find for pollinating insects.
The dark coniferous forest does not change its appearance over the year and remains always green. Its cover turns green from spring to autumn, its green moss carpet remains unchangeably green from spring to autumn, as do many of the flowering plants that inhabit it. The leathery leaves of the mountain cranberry and wintergreen in graceful lines, the garlands of wolf’s claw and a number of other plants disappear beneath the snow and emerge from it invariably green.
Taiga’s Evergreen Plants
Thus, the dark coniferous forest, as a whole, is a community of evergreen plants and seems to have adapted to a long vegetative period. Meanwhile, the dark coniferous taiga is a northern type of vegetation that has only some five months for its growth, while resting under a blanket of snow for the remaining seven months. This circumstance is indeed the mystery of the taiga, which cannot be resolved without looking into the past, since modern conditions cannot explain its eternally green appearance.
The taiga also has many valuable shrubs; some of them, such as, for example, currants, gooseberry, and sea buckthorn, have already long been cultivated in gardens.
The taiga is also rich in various berry plants, many of which still are not domesticated. Just imagine how many whortleberries and mountain cranberries ripen every year in pine and spruce forests, whortleberry and mountain cranberry thickets! And how many cranberries, blueberries, and cloudberries can be gathered on peat moors in the autumn! Much less popular in the broad spectrum are berries such as Arctic raspberry, European blackberry, and raspberry, although they have long been valued by the inhabitants of the north. Also little used by us are stone bramble, mountain ash, viburnum, and bird cherry.
There are estimates according to which thickets of small bushes—whortleberries and mountain cranberries – can yield, in northern forests, on one hectare, not less than 2 to 3, and even up to 5 tons of fruit. That is, an annual crop of 820 million tons of berries may be obtained.
In addition, the taiga is rich in various medicinal plants, among which the mysterious ginseng—”the root of life”—occupies a very special position.
The relatives of most of the plants of the taiga are residents of warmer countries. Of the cowberry family, which includes mountain cranberries, bilberries, and blueberries, only four types live in the taiga, while in the tropical countries of America and South Asia their number reaches 300. It is thought that the vegetation of the taiga is more ancient than the vegetation of our meadows and deciduous forests. It may have developed in the conditions of a warmer climate with a longer growing period, which occurred in earlier epochs of the tertiary period. Having survived the Ice Age in the south, spruce, cedar, and their evergreen companions moved to the north, and conquered vast areas in the European and Asian parts of Russia.
The vegetation of the taiga is thus extremely ancient.
The fauna of the taiga is very rich. It is inhabited both by large predators—the brown bear, wolf, lynx, fox—as well as smaller carnivores—the otter, mink, marten, wolverine, and sable.
In the taiga are found animals that are unique only to these coniferous forests. So, it is home to moose, Siberian ferrets, weasels, ermines, and chipmunks. In addition to these, other animals of the taiga include white hares, flying squirrels, and musk-deer. Typical for the taiga forests are woodgrouse, northern hawk owls, nutcrackers, crossbills, Ural tawny owls, boreal owls, bullfinches, and three-toed woodpeckers. Among the reptiles can be found the common lizard, common adder, and viper.
Because of the complex natural conditions, the animals of the taiga have acquired features that help them survive. Thus, in winter, the black grouse and white hare seek shelter in the snow with the coming of the night. In addition, many animals that inhabit the taiga have a thick coat.
A great many animals of the taiga survive the long, cold, and snowy winter in a state of anabiosis (invertebrates) or hibernation (brown bear, chipmunk), and many species of birds migrate to other regions. The permanent inhabitants of the forests of the taiga are sparrows, woodpeckers, and grouse—woodgrouse, hazel-grouse, and Siberian grouse.
We end our acquaintance with the taiga with the words of the well-known expert on the Siberian taiga, P. N. Krylov: “Whoever has happened to be in the typical taiga, for example, in a dense fir and spruce forest, has, of course, experienced the special sensation elicited by its sullen and majestic tableau, a sensation heightened even more by the distinctive rumble of the wind moving between the dense needle-covered branches. But this impression, of course, will be incomparably stronger for someone who knows that, if he penetrates such a taiga from a birch forest, for example, he crosses the threshold from our modern circumstances and enters a setting of hoary antiquity, which already existed in those most distant days when the Earth was not yet home to its present most powerful ruler—man.”