Did you know that no forests or trees can be seen above the altitude of 2,000m on the Alps, the mountains known as the top of Europe? On the contrary, the forest line in Taiwan can extend to an elevation of 3,600m with six types of vegetation zones. The diversification of the ecology of Taiwan can thus be seen.
Stretching across the tropics and subtropics, Taiwan is an elongated island with a total of 286 mountains with summits over 3,000m above sea level. Jade Mountain, the highest mountain in Taiwan at 3,952m (12,966 ft) above sea level, is also the highest peak in northeast Asia. Blessed with an advantageous geographic location and varied terrain features, Taiwan has a diverse and delicate natural environment: the vertical distribution of tropical, temperate and frigid climates is presented, together with the formation of six types of vegetation zones which consist of a great variety of lush trees and plants that change as the altitude increases. Covering 50% of the total area of the island, rich flora and fauna resources flourish in the immense tracts of forests and various habitats.
The so-called alpine vegetation consists of the plants that are distributed in the areas above the “forest line”, a term which refers to the maximum forest distribution under natural conditions. For example, the forest line that stretches for several kilometers near Hehuanshan high road is formed by Taiwan White Fir forests and Yushan Cane shrubs.
Walk into the mountains and discover the entirely different scenery at low and high altitudes: the vertical changes are truly astonishing. No wonder the navigators from Portugal would exclaim “Formosa” in surprise upon seeing the lush green ranges of mountains on this island back in the 16th century. Are you tempted? Come and explore the scenic beauty of Taiwan and hunt for your own treasures.
A high mountain area located above the altitude of 3,600 m with around 2,800 mm of annual rainfall and an annual average temperature of less than 5°C usually possesses the features of bare rock or bedrock. The soil is dry, the wind is strong, there is burning sunshine and a lot of snowfall in winter. In such a turbulent environment, only short shrubs and alpine herbs can grow. Single-seed Juniper, Yushan Barberry and Yushan Rhododendron are the most common flora found there.
Located between the altitudes of 3,100 to 3,600m, it is dry and cold in winter, with an annual average temperature of between 5 and 8°C. Vegetation usually grows in the sun facing the dry hills or on land with deep but poor soil. The most common plants here are the Taiwan White Fir and Yushan Cane. It is really amazing when the alpine flowers are in full bloom from May to August.
Tsuga - Picea zone
Located between the altitudes of 2,500 and 3,100m, this zone has an annual average temperature of between 8 and 11°C, and annual rainfall of 3,000 and 3,500 mm. The major forest formation is composed of the Tsuga and Picea trees. It is a dry area with only broad-leaved forests – Quercus spinosa hard-leaf forests, in addition to alpine grassland and some pine forests.
Located between the altitudes of 1,500 and 2,500m, this zone has an annual average temperature of between 11 and 17°C, high annual rainfall of 3,000 to 4,200 mm and high humidity. Fagaceae plants are the major species found here, and the Quercus is the dominant tree species. The top layer of the Quercus zone at 2,000 to 2,500m altitude is surrounded by very thick clouds and fog with forests of Taiwan Cypress. The lower layer consists of other typical trees, including Cryptomeria-like Taiwania, Taiwan yellow cypress, Green Maple.
Machilus – Castanopsis zone
Located between the altitudes of 500 and 1,500m with warm and humid weather, it has an annual average temperature of 17 to 23°C with humus-enriched soil. Evergreen broader-leaved trees are the major species, and most plants belong to the Machilus, Lauraceae and Fagaceae species in addition to the random distribution of Taiwan Incense Cedar, Makino Bamboo, Japanese Cedar.
Ficus – Machilus zone
Located on the plains or hills below the altitude of 500m, annual rainfall fluctuates between 1,000 and 4,000 mm in general, with an annual average temperature of above 23°C. The key plant mix is the Ficus, Moraceae and Machilus, Lauraceae; the major species are banyan tree, Bishop wood and Thatch Pandanus.