Wordjoy: biome

Hey-o, Saturday Wordjoy. This week I’m talking about a group of words that I find singularly beautiful in themselves, and also evocative: the words for different biomes.

A biome is all the places on earth that have similar flora, fauna, and weather. “Desert” is a biome. “Freshwater” is a biome. Right here is a lovely map of the world’s land biomes, courtesy of Wikipedia. I am, by the way, more or less parroting Wikipedia articles in this post, though I first heard of biomes by playing Zoo Tycoon. If you play it, these will sound familiar. I won’t go through all the biomes, only the ones with very lovely names.

Tundra is what you might call arctic wasteland. The ground is permanently frozen so trees cannot grow. Just south of tundra you find taiga, where the ground freezes and thaws. Taiga is also called boreal forest. Taiga is usually evergreen. It can be found across much of Canada and Russia. At the border between tundra and taiga you sometimes find a drunken forest. In these, the annual melt and thaw makes the ground so unstable that trees can begin to fall but get stuck halfway over. If you watch The Last Alaskans, there is drunken forest in the segments near the Korth cabin.

Steppe is grasslands. A lot of Siberia is steppe; so are a lot of North America’s northern plains. The Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming. Those are steppe. Also called prairie.

Xeric shrubland is desert, but receives juuuuust enough water for small plants to grow. “Xeric” is a great word for Scrabble; it’s also the source for xeriscaping, the practice of landscaping with drought-resistant plants.

Now to the really lovely words: marine habitats.

The benthic zone is the bottom of a body of saltwater. Just above the floor is the demersal zone. If it is deep enough, it is part of the larger aphotic zone, or the part where less than 1% of sunlight penetrates. It’s the dark, cold place where creepies like anglerfish and gulper eels live.

Higher up where you do get light is the photic zone, which is topped by the pelagic zone. Pelagic is by definition (1) near the surface and (2) not near the shore.

There are a lot more wonderful words having to do with habitats, but I think that’s enough for now. I just love the sounds of the ones I’ve listed: benthic. Pelagic. Tundra. Taiga. Boreal. Hope you do, too.


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