I’m trying to create a botanical “Must See” list: Plant Wonders of the World.

The first Plant Wonders of the World that leaped to mind were not individual plants but the great ecosystems of the world, plant communities.

So I’d recommend seeing all the great land ecosystems.

Boreal forests – See great coniferous forest stretching to the horizon. In places its a virtual monoculture, smelling richly of pines…

boreal forest in Canada

Deciduous forests: Walk through an old-growth hardwood forest. It is diverse with many species of trees, shrubs, herbs and vines. Green in spring and summer, yellow and red in fall, leafless in winter it is continuously changing its look.

hardwood forest

Grasslands. Stand in a native grassland. The grasses are green in spring and summer, gold fading to brown in fall and winter. They bend and nod if there is wind, and grasslands are windy. Some native grasslands are tall enough to hide a tall man, others barely cover the tops of the visitor’s shoes.


Tundra. Step onto the tundra, a place too cold, with too short a growing season, for trees. You can find tundra in the far north (arctic tundra) or on the tops of mountains (alpine tundra). (Nothing in the Southern Hemisphere goes far enough south for antarctic tundra). Tundra plants are short, dwarfed by a short growing season and the need to survive heavy snow cover, but their miniature flowers are a delight.

Alpine tundra

Desert. Stroll alertly through a desert. It is shockingly dry and frequently incredibly hot. The plants are scattered, their leaves small and spiny. Most of the time the colors are greens and browns, but after a rain, there is a glorious–brief–burst of bright flowers.
Lower Sonoran desert

Tropical rainforest. Hike in a tropical rainforest. The warm humidity will almost take your breath away. The trees are very tall, rising up out of sight. On them, high above, diverse epiphytes like orchids and bromeliads, grow on the branches. Thick vines trail between the trees and to the ground. There are literally hundreds of different plant species in a small area.
tropical rainforest

Where can you see these wonders?  In North America, in national parks. For example:

Boreal forest: Arcadia National Park, Superior National Forest, or Glacier National Park;

Deciduous forest: along the Appalachian Trail,

Grasslands: Tallgrass National Park,

Tundra: Rocky Mountain National Park or national parks in Alaska such as Denali;

Desert: Sonoran Desert National Monument in Arizona

(This is not at all a complete list!)

Tropical Rainforest does not occur in North America. Good places to see it in Central America include Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Panama, and Belize . I also highly recommend the tropical rainforest of South America, for example in the Amazon River drainage, in Peru and Brazil.

These great major ecosystems occur on most continents. The specific plants change but the appearance and response to climate are very similar in deciduous forests or grasslands across the world. Several will be somewhere near you.

At one time these plant communities were what you saw everywhere you traveled–whichever ecosystem the local climate supported–but human activity has reduced them so we see houses and farmland, manufacturing plants and highways and the original native ecosystems are best experienced in parks and preserves.