Mixed and Deciduous Forests

South of the taiga zone, a narrow wedge of mixed and deciduous forests stretches from the Baltic republics to the Urals and beyond, to Novosibirsk and the Mongolian border. This zone is smaller than the taiga, but it has a warmer and generally wetter climate. Moscow is located in the middle of it, with pine and spruce being more common to the north of Moscow, and oak, maple, and linden being more common to the south. The exact mixtures vary, depending on previous logging, fire history, plantings, and bedrock. The majority of secondary forests in this zone are pure birch stands, very popular among the Russian landscape artists. Deciduous forests can grow faster and utilize resources better than conifers, provided that the weather is not too cold. When autumn comes, they shed their leaves and become dormant for winter to avoid death by desiccation. Broad leaves are efficient water evaporation machines; if they are left on the trees in winter, all the water will escape the trunk. In North America the same zone is found throughout much of the mid-Atlantic region, parts of New England, Ohio, Ontario, and central parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Much of Western Europe likewise is in this zone.

Russia: Mixed and Deciduous Forests

The soils of the deciduous forest zone are gray forest soils (“alfisols”). These are richer and less acidic than the spodosols of the taiga, but are only modestly better for agricultural purposes. The main feature of these soils is a very quick turnover of nutrients. Wheat and rye are commonly grown in this zone. Forests have a well-developed layered-canopy structure, with tall trees like oaks, lindens (basswoods), or maples dominating the top laye. The second layer of smaller trees and tall shrubs (chokecherries, mountain ash, hazelnuts) give way to small shrubs and herbaceous layers, and finally a layer of moss on the ground. Mushrooms are plentiful, as well as wild berries.

The deciduous forest zone is warm enough for some amphibian and reptile species as well; toads, frogs, vipers, and lizards are common. The typical mammals of the zone include many of the taiga species mentioned above. In addition, hedgehogs, martens, European roe deer, beavers, and dormice are common. Endangered European wood bison can be seen in a few preserves, such as the Prioksko-Terrasny Zapovednik, about 2 hours south of Moscow. The secretive Russian desman is an endemic of the Soviet Union; it looks like an oversized water shrew and spends most of its life in clean, slow-flowing forest rivers. It is a threatened species. The birds are very diverse, with a few hundred species present in the forests surrounding Moscow, for example. Not all of them are true forest species, but every May the forests ring with dozens of different voices. Typical forest birds include falcons, eagles, owls, woodpeckers, nuthatches, titmice, and thrushes. The famous nightingales sing majestically in early May through late June in much of European Russia. These secretive, drab olive birds with rusty tails do not look at all remarkable and are hard to see; their song, however, has 12 different parts and is remarkably rich and beautiful. They are even more common in the forest–steppe, where the legendary Kursk nightingales were greatly admired by 19th-century Russian writers and poets.

The best places to see the deciduous zone in European Russia include the Prioksko-Terrasny Zapovednik, mentioned above; the Oksky Zapovednik in the Ryazan region, about 4 hours east of Moscow; and the Kaluzhskie Zaseki in the Kaluga region, about 4 hours southwest of Moscow. In Belarus on the border with Poland, the famous Belovezhskaya Puscha is home to one of the last herds of European bison. A few national parks in this zone also exist in the Baltic republics.