Distribution of Plants & Animals in the United States

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  • 0:01 Regions of the United States
  • 0:30 Native Animals
  • 1:45 Native Plants
  • 3:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to describe in general terms the distribution of plants and animals in the United States and give a few examples. A short quiz will follow.

Regions of the United States

The United States is a large area, but it's also an unusually varied area. There are at least nine distinct regional climates in the United States, including rainforests, highlands, Mediterranean climates, subtropical areas, mid-latitude steppe, deserts, humid continental climates, and even a little tropical savanna and tundra. So, it's not surprising that the native animals and plants of the United States are similarly varied and widely distributed.

Native Animals

Unfortunately, much of the United States' native wildlife is no longer present, or not in large numbers. Humans have hunted animals and pushed them out of their natural areas. But even if the United States isn't what it once was, there is still a lot of varied animal life to be found.

Bison can be found in places like Yellowstone National Park and other wildlife reserves, and the musk ox has also been re-introduced in Alaska. Black, brown, and grizzly bears range across much of the Rocky Mountains. There are also large numbers of deer, including white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, caribou, and American elk. There are gray and red wolves, red, gray, and arctic foxes, and coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, and lynx, along with many types of rabbits, beavers, weasels, raccoons, and squirrels.

There are alligators, turtles, and crocodiles in Florida, rattlesnakes across almost all of the U.S., and lizards in the Southwest. And then there are birds, fish, and amphibians too numerous to count. But as urban areas grow across the U.S., many of these animals are increasingly confined to particular wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, and protected areas.

Native Plants

When Europeans started to colonize the United States, there were a lot more trees than there are today. Most of them have been chopped down for timber, or just to make space for humans. Originally, most of the land east of the Mississippi was forest, followed by grasslands from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains, and then more forest from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

In the Northeast, the Rockies, the West Coast, and Alaska, you find mostly coniferous trees. These include the famous redwoods of California, and trees of a darker green hue in the Pacific Northwest. Deciduous trees are found commonly in the Midwest, but most of the U.S. has at least some deciduous trees, and many areas are a mix of deciduous and coniferous. Palms and tropical trees grow in Southern Florida and Hawaii.

The U.S. also has abundant grasslands, from the tall-grass prairie in the east to the short-grass Great Plains in the west as you approach the Rocky Mountains. And with at least 20,000 types of flowers, there are far too many flowering plants to mention. The goldenrod is the most common American flower across the country, but every region has its own mix.

The Great Plains have sunflowers and blazing stars. The South has bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush. The forests of the East contain trilliums, among others. There are even desert wildflowers, mountainous species in the Rocky Mountains, and tropical flowers in Hawaii. And the deserts of the U.S. wouldn't be what they are without their Joshua trees, cacti, sagebrush, and tumbleweed.

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