Trees are the most important plants in temperate forests. Most of the other organisms in the forest depend on the tree's ability to turn the sun’s energy into sugars using photosynthesis.
There are big trees and small trees. Some tree species like serviceberry, hop hornbeam, Dogwood, or Sassafras, never really get big enough to reach the canopy, and have relatively short lifespans.
Other trees like Oaks, Maples, Ponderosa Pines or Douglas-Fir, can live hundreds of years. Some Temperate Forest conifers like Redwoods and Giant Sequoias in California can live for thousands of years, and are some of the largest living things on the planet.
Big trees need a lot of water, which they absorb through their large root systems. They also need nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus to make the enzymes and pigments (like chlorophyll) that they use in photosynthesis.
Though you can't see it, these trees take advantage of another organism to get nutrients from the soil. Almost all tree species use what are called mycorrhizae (meaning ‘fungus-roots’) to obtain some of their nutrients. These are roots which fungi have grown around or into.
There are lots of other plants besides trees in temperate forests. Understory shrubs like Gooseberry (watch out for spines!) and Blueberry are some tasty examples.
There are also some stranger plants in the temperate forest. While you may picture plants as things with nice green leaves, there are some species of plants which are actually parasitic. That is, they steal nutrients or energy from other organisms.
Mistletoe is actually one of these plants. It grows high on the branches of other trees, where it steals water and nutrients from inside the tree’s branches. This way it doesn’t have to have roots in the ground.
Drew Peltier. (2014, July 22). Plants of the Temperate Forest. ASU - Ask A Biologist. Retrieved October 22, 2020 from https://askabiologist.asu.edu/plants-temperate-forest
Drew Peltier. "Plants of the Temperate Forest". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 22 July, 2014. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/plants-temperate-forest
Drew Peltier. "Plants of the Temperate Forest". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 22 Jul 2014. ASU - Ask A Biologist, Web. 22 Oct 2020. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/plants-temperate-forest
Some trees, like this dogwood, are called deciduous because they lose their leaves over the winter.