Chronicles of America 

Deciduous Forests of America

The second great type of American forest is deciduous. The trees have broad leaves quite unlike the slender needles or overlapping scales of the northern evergreens. Each winter such forests shed their leaves. Among the mountains where the frosts come suddenly, the blaze of glory and brilliance of color which herald the shedding of the leaves are surpassed in no other part of the world. Even the colors of the Painted Desert in northern Arizona and the wonderful flowers of the California plains are less pleasing. In the Painted Desert the patches of red, yellow, gray-blue, white, pale green, and black have a garish, almost repellent appearance. In California the flame-colored acres of poppies in some places, of white or yellow daisylike flowers in others, or of purple blossoms elsewhere have a softer expression than the bare soil of the desert. Yet they lack the delicate blending and harmony of colors which is the greatest charm of the autumn foliage in the deciduous forests. Even where the forests consist of such trees as birches, beeches, aspens, or sycamores, whose leaves merely turn yellow in the fall, the contrast between this color and the green tint of summer or the bare branches of winter adds a spice of variety which is lacking in other and more monotonous forests.

From still other points of view the deciduous forest has an almost unequaled degree of variety. In one place it consists of graceful little birches whose white trunks shimmering in the twilight form just the background for ghosts. Contrast them with the oak forest half a mile away. There the sense of gracefulness gives place to a feeling of strength. The lines are no longer vertical but horizontal. The knotted elbows of the branches recall the keels of sturdy merchantmen of bygone days. The acorns under foot suggest food for the herds of half-wild pigs which roam among the trees in many a southern county. Of quite another type are the stately forests of the Appalachians where splendid magnolia and tulip trees spread their broad limbs aloft at heights of one hundred feet or more.

Deciduous forests grow in the well-balanced regions where summer and winter approach equality, where neither is unduly long, and where neither is subject to prolonged drought. They extend southward from central New England, the Great Lakes, and Minnesota, to Mississippi, Arkansas, and eastern Texas. They predominate even in parts of such prairie States as Michigan, Indiana, southern Illinois, and southeastern Missouri. No part of the continent is more populous or more progressive than the regions once covered by deciduous forests. In the United States nearly sixty per cent of the inhabitants live in areas reclaimed from such forests. Yet the area of the forests is less than a quarter of the three million square miles that make up the United States.

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