By Steven L. Stephenson
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Although seedlings of trees co-occur with herbaceous plants in the same horizontal space, they are regarded as making up an entirely separate layer. Just like saplings, individual seedlings are transitory members of this layer, since they can be expected to grow into saplings (if they survive, of course). There can be ecological consequences of the co-occurrence of these two layers. , certain ferns) can have a major negative impact upon the growth and survival of seedlings. Many of the herbaceous flowering plants found in a Central Appalachian forest produce their flowers in spring, usually before the leaves are fully developed on the trees making up the overstory and understory.
When the various layers of vegetation in a forest dominated by conifers are compared with those of a forest dominated by broadleaf trees, major differences are apparent. For example, in a mature conifer-dominated forest the canopy layer is well developed, and the individual canopies closely intertwined. The dense shade cast by such a canopy often means that lower layers of vegetation show little diversity: the understory tree and sapling layers sometimes consists of only a few scattered individuals.
This flora has been referred to as the Arcto-Tertiary Geoflora. During the second half of the Cenozoic the earth’s climate began to cool, the continents became more widely separated, and barriers to dispersal appeared. The most important of these in North America was the drying that occurred in the center of the continent as a consequence of the uplift of the Rocky Mountains. This created a major ecological barrier that essentially isolated eastern North America from western North America. Other, similar barriers appeared in Europe and Asia.