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Plant life in Japan


Japanese vegetation
Japanese vegetation

Much of the original vegetation has been replaced by agriculture or by the introduction of foreign species to the islands. Semitropical rainforest prevails in the Ryukyu and Bonin archipelagoes and contains various kinds of mulberries, camphor, oaks, and ferns (including tree ferns); madder and lianas are found as undergrowth. In the Amami Islands this type of plant life occurs only on lowlands, but it grows at higher altitudes to the south. There are a few mangrove swamps along the southern coast of Kyushu. The laurel forest zone of evergreen, broad-leaved trees extends from the southwestern islands northward to the lowlands of northern Honshu. Camphor, pasania, Japanese evergreen oak, camellia, and holly are typical trees, and various kinds of ferns grow as undergrowth. In Kyushu, the evergreen zone reaches elevations above 3,300 feet (1,000 metres), but its vertical limit decreases northeastward across Honshu. In general, camphor dominates in the littoral lowlands, pasania in sunny and well-drained sites, and Japanese evergreen oak in the foggy and cloudy inlands.

In the southwestern Hondo region (western Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu) are ficus and fan palm. The coastal dunes are dominated by pine trees. Natural stands of Japanese cedar, some containing trees that are more than 2,000 years old, occur above 2,300 feet (700 metres) on Yaku Island, south of Kyushu. Deciduous broad-leaved forests develop in the higher and more northerly portions of the laurel forest zone. In Kyushu, this type of forest occurs above 3,300 feet, but it gradually descends northward to sea level in northern Honshu. Its upper limit reaches 6,000 feet (1,800 metres) in Shikoku and 5,000 feet (1,500 metres) in central Honshu.

Representative trees are beech, katsura tree, maple, oak, and birch, while various kinds of bamboo grasses grow as undergrowth. All these trees, but especially the maples, are admired for their beautiful fall colours.

The trees have been occasionally replaced by larch, false cypress, false arborvitae, Japanese cedar, Japanese red pine, Japanese black pine, and other coniferous species. The deciduous zone extends into western Hokkaido, where beeches terminate at the southwestern peninsula and further northeastward are replaced by basswood and maple. Some stands of conifers are mixed with the representative forests of this zone. Coniferous trees are numerous in the north and eastern periphery of Hokkaido up to elevations of 2,300 feet. Sakhalin spruce, Sakhalin fir, blue fir, and Yezo spruce are mixed with such deciduous trees as birch, oak, and maple and dense undergrowth of mosses and lichens.

Coniferous trees are mixed with deciduous vegetation in southwestern Hokkaido and occur in the higher portion of central Honshu and Shikoku. High-altitude small shrubs, the creeping pine, and alpine plants grow in the high mountain knots of central Honshu above 8,000 feet (2,400 metres). This zone gradually descends northward to the Hakkōda Mountains, in northern Honshu, at 4,600 feet (1,400 metres) and to the Daisetsu Mountains, in central Hokkaido, at about 3,600 feet (1,100 metres).

The cherry tree, celebrated for its spring blossoms and long one of the symbols of Japan, is planted throughout the country. Many varieties have been cultivated, and natural stands are also found in the mountains. "Japan" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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