Plants and Animals

The tundra, in the far north, is a treeless region where only small mosses, lichens, and ferns can withstand the cold winters. South of the tundra is the taiga, a coniferous forest of pine, spruce, fir, and larch that stretches across northern Europe. Below the taiga is a mixture of coniferous and broadleaf (deciduous) forests, which include beech, ash, oak, hazel, poplar, and willow trees. Broadleaf forests occur mainly in a belt stretching northeastward from Portugal to Denmark.

The plants that border the Mediterranean Sea are mainly small, drought-resistant southern evergreens. The chief trees include Aleppo pine and cypress, cork oak, and Spanish chestnut. On the dry steppes of Spain and southeastern Europe, grasses make up most of the natural vegetation.

Because the land has been densely settled for centuries, wildlife has been greatly reduced. The European bison, for example, is almost extinct. Among the remaining larger wild animals are the brown bear, deer, and elk. Smaller animals include the badger, beaver, chamois, chipmunk, fox, genet, hedgehog, lynx, marmot, marten, mole, otter, polecat, porcupine, rabbit, squirrel, weasel, wildcat, wild pig, wolf, and wolverine. Europe has few snakes.

Thrushes, finches, warblers, and buntings are probably the most numerous birds. Others include the raven, rook, jackdaw, magpie, nutcracker, woodpecker, cuckoo, kingfisher, swift, falcon, hawk, and eagle.