Land and Resources, Plant Life
tundra vegetation, Mongolian Steppe, intensive cultivation, overgrazing, Tibetan Plateau
As a result of the wide range of climates and topography, China is rich in plant species. However, much of the original vegetation in densely populated eastern China has been removed during centuries of settlement and intensive cultivation. Natural forests are generally preserved only in the more remote mountainous areas.
Tropical South China’s dense rain forests contain broadleaf evergreens, some more than 50 m (160 ft) tall, intermixed with palms. Subtropical East Central China is especially rich in plant species: oak, ginkgo, bamboo, pine, azalea, camellia, laurel, and magnolia all grow here. Forests often have dense undergrowth of smaller shrubs and bamboo thickets. Conifers and mountain grasses dominate at higher elevations.
The area north of the subtropical Yangtze Valley was once an extensive broadleaf deciduous forest, similar to that of the eastern United States. The principal species remaining are varieties of oak, ash, elm, and maple. China’s most important timber reserves are in the mountains of Northeast China, where there are extensive tracts of coniferous forest dominated by larch. The Dongbei Pingyuan, now under cultivation, was once covered by forest steppe vegetation—grasses interspersed with trees.
In the eastern portion of the Mongolian Steppe, drought-resistant grasses grow, although overgrazing and soil erosion have depleted much of the region’s vegetation. Arid Northwest China is characterized by clumps of herbaceous plants and grasses separated by extensive barren areas; salt-tolerant species dominate here. The Tibetan Plateau, especially at lower elevations with greater humidity, contains tundra vegetation, consisting of grasses and flowers. In more-favored locations throughout the arid regions, larger shrubs and even trees may grow, and many mountain areas contain spruce and fir forests.
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