Seven Layers Of A Forest

The seven layers of a forest, is a useful permaculture design tool and a

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convenient way to break down and analyze the components of a crest ecosystem. The important thing to remember is that it’s the forest’s diversity (and hence potential for connections) that makes it function. Individually, plants don’t likely know (or care) that one is fixing nitrogen while another is providing food or shelter but, through a 4.5 billion year process of co-evolution organisms have aligned themselves in ways that, as a whole, are beneficial to the entire ecosystem. As designers, we look at ecosystems, like forests, to tease out patterns and principals that we can use in our own designs.

  • Forest Canopy Large over-story trees that provide shade, protection from heavy rainfall, hold down the soil and create new clearings when toppled by wind. They sequester carbon, absorb water, and become home and highway for countless organisms.
  • Forest Understory Further building upon a lot of what the canopy is doing; some individuals may even become future canopy trees, others are more shade tolerant.
  • Forest Shrub Layer A little more emphasis on protecting the soil, many produce fruit and (even if they don’t) offer protection for many small birds.
  • Forest Soil Surface/Ground Cover Further protecting the soil and providing another layer for nutrient capture, storage, and distribution.
  • Forest Vine Layer Once again, it’s mostly about maximizing connections and edge; as vines grow vertically, they occupy a another dimension and are able to make use of a perviously unused space.

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whole, the diversity of shape, size, and species provides more opportunities for connections (slowing enthalpy) than a single layer would. Within a forest each

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plants may perform specific functions; nitrogen fixation (acacia, caragana, lupin), providing mulch (from leaf drop in temperate climates), or various forms of habitat. All of them collect energy, water, and nutrients. Another way of looking at the system is that as an ecosystem moves through succession (from parking lot to forest, for example) it increases its edge; as edge increases the surface area (nutrient gathering abilities) increases which further encourages growth which, in turn, further increase edge (life creates conditions conducive to life). Increasing edge also creates more niches for other species, once again, further increasing its capacity for life.