skip to Main Content
80+ Forest Features For Fantasy Worldbuilding39 Min Read

80+ Forest Features For Fantasy Worldbuilding39 min read

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Bark, blossom, bough, and burl! Welcome back, Outlander, to the 5th entry in Mythic Ecology, my series on how learning real-world landscape features can enrich our fantasy worldbuilding and storytelling. In this post I return to my minimalist framework for Dungeon Masters, Game Masters, fiction writers, and similar worldbuilders to merge the realms of general myth and geomorphology. Last entry we looked at rivers. As I resume my journey sketching a framework for designing Yridia, my unique D&D 5e fantasy world, let’s learn some forest terms, with a visual guide!

All the images herein I use for educational and entertainment purposes, I claim no rights to any of them. For corrections or content removal requests, hit my contact page.

Part 0: Mythic Ecology For Fantasy Worldbuilding & Storytelling
-Settlements
-Omens
-Overlooks
-Passageways
-Abyss
-Battlegrounds

Part 1: Tree Parts
-Annual Ring
-Bark
-Blossom
-Bole
-Bough
-Branch
-Catkin
-Foliage
-Hollow
-Knot
-Lignotuber
-Pitch / Resin
-Root
-Sap
-Twig

Part 2: Non-Tree Parts
-Fairy Ring
-Forb
-Fungi
-Polypores
-Underground Stem
-Vines

Part 3: Basic Tree Categories
-Deciduous
-Evergreen
-Broadleaf / Hardwood
-Conifer / Softwood
-Deciduous Conifer

Part 4: Forest Layers
-Forest Floor
-Understory Layer
-Canopy Layer
-Emergent Layer

Part 5: Snag, Old Growth, Secondary Growth
-Snag Forest / Complex Early Seral Forest
-Old Growth
-Secondary Growth

Part 6: Tree Group Terms
-Copse
-Grove
-Hammock
-Stand
-Thicket

Part 7: Tropical Forests
-Monsoon Season
-Tropical Evergreen Rainforest
-Tropical & Subtropical Moist Broadleaf / Seasonal / Semi-Evergreen / Monsoon Rainforest
–Montane / Cloud Forest
—Laurel Forests
–Flooded Forests
-Tropical & Subtropical Dry Broadleaf Forests
-Tropical & Subtropical Coniferous Forests

Part 8: Temperate Forests
-Spring Season
-Summer Season
-Fall Season
-Winter Season
-Moist Coniferous & Evergreen Broadleaf Forest
-Dry Coniferous Forest
-Mediterranean Forest
-Temperate Broadleaf Rainforest

Part 9: Boreal Forests
-Summer Season
-Winter Season
-Closed Canopy Boreal Forest
-Lichen Woodland / Sparse Taiga

Part 10: Transitional Forests
-Mangrove / Mangal
-Savanna
-Sclerophyllous Dry Forest
-Thorn Forest
-Woodland / Woodlot

Part 11: Special Forests
-Baobob Forests
-Bamboo Forests
-Dragon’s Blood Forests
-Giant Redwood Forests
-Grapetree Forests
-Jungle
-Kapok Forests
-Rainbow Eucalyptus Forests
-Spider Tree Forests
-Tetrameles Forests

Part 12: Deformations & Damages
-Burl / Burr
-Crooked Trees
-Drunken Trees / Tilted Trees
-Gall
-Geoxyle / Underground Trees
-Snag
-Witch’s Broom
-Windsnap
-Windthrow / Blowdown

Part 13: Wood Seasons
-Earlywood / Springwood
-Latewood / Summerwood
-Heartwood
-Sapwood

PART 0: MYTHIC ECOLOGY FOR FANTASY WORLDBUILDING & STORYTELLING

In The Anatomy of Story (2007), John Truby identifies the Forest as a symbol reflecting a sort of binary archetype of awe and dread. On the one hand the benevolent woodlands, a natural cathedral, full of wisdom and contemplation. And on the other, the foreboding, labrynthine, slow deadliness of the the forest primeval. Likewise the jungle, a rather skewed trope from colonial discourse, invokes a feeling of suffocation, tropes of human as beast, and beasts surpassing humanity.

But as we’ll see, forests have enough diversity within them to cover many moods and themes. We’ll talk details, but for first let’s revisit my minimalist framework for my worldbuilding. The six archetype tags with which I will flag all the various real-world land features in my Mythic Ecology Series:

1. Settlements: habitable regions of either Work or Play, Familiar or Exotic, offering diverse narrative functions: a Day in the Life, Home Base, Personal Reasons, Gathering Supplies. Can subvert tropes with Ruins or Escape.
2. Omens: sensational, temporal, or particularly pointed features that offer narrative functions of forshadowing, and good or evil portents. Can subvert tropes with a Wild Goose Chase.
3. Overlooks: sites of magnitude and grandeur, living monuments which can function narratively for finding resolve, invoking spirits, or as a Call to Adventure. Can subvert tropes with Dread or Betrayal.
4. Passageways: transitional journeylands, including magical portals, functioning narratively for initiation and return, thresholds and tests, shortcuts and setbacks.
5. Abyss: a void or confined space presenting scarcity or temptation, desperation and danger. Can subvert tropes with a Timely Rescue or Secret Refuge.
6. Battlegrounds: sites fit for epic, sprawling encounters and climax conflicts. Can subvert tropes with Alternative Solutions.

Feel free to submit your own ideas, or draw outside the lines. Alright, let’s see how forests fit in.

PART 1: TREE PARTS

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding annual ring
Annual Ring a tree cross-section featuring one earlywood layer (light-colored) and one latewood layer (dark-colored), representing a year of growth.
[Omens]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding bark
Bark – the hard substance that covers a tree.
[Omens] 
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding blossom
Blossom – a flower on a tree, or all the flowers on a tree.
[Omens]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding bole

Bole the main trunk of a tree.
[Omens, Overlooks]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding bough

Bough – a big branch on a tree.
[Omens, Overlooks]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding tree branch

Branch – a part of a tree that grows out of its trunk with leaves, flowers, or fruit.
[Omens]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding catkin

Catkin – a long soft group of small flowers that hangs from the branches of some trees.
[Omens]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding foliage

Foliage leaves of a tree or other plant.
[Omens]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding hollow

Hollow a natural semi-enclosed cavity in a tree trunk or branch.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding knot

Knot – a round hard place in a piece of wood where a branch grew.
[Omens]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding lignotuber

Lignotuber – a protective, woody swelling of a tree’s root crown, containing buds and starch.
[Omens]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding pitch

Pitch / Resin – a solid or highly viscous plant substance which helps tree wounds scab over.
[Omens]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding root

Root the lower, non-leaf, nodeless part of a plants body, often below the soil (but sometimes aboveground or abovewater), which helps a plant with water, nutrients, and anchoring.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding sap

Sap a translucent, thin, watery, slightly amber-colored substance which transports water, nutrients, and hormones throughout a tree.
[Omens]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding twig

Twig – a very small thin branch from a tree or bush.

PART 2: NON-TREE PARTS

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding fairy ring

Fairy Ring a naturally-occurring circle or arc of mushrooms; similar rings occur with some sequoia tree regrowth patterns.
[Omens, Passageways]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding forbs

Forb any herb other than grasses, sedges, or rushes.
[Omens]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding fungi

Fungi – yeasts, mildews, molds, and mushrooms decomposing detritus.
[Omens]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding polypores

Polypores – fruiting fungi which grow on trees. Subtype of Fungi.
[Omens]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding underground stem

Underground Stem – plant stems extending below soil, for food storage or new growth, including bulbs, corms, rhizomes, and tubers.

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding vines

Vines plant tendrils behaving as trailing or climbing stems or runners.
[Abyss]

PART 3: BASIC TREE CATEGORIES

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding deciduous

Deciduous trees which shed their leaves annually.
[Omens]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding evergreen

Evergreen trees whose leaves shed gradually and stay green year-round.
[Omens]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding broadleaf

Broadleaf / Hardwood trees with broad, flat leaves of many shapes. Most often deciduous; most also have hard wood.
[Omens]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding conifer

Conifer / Softwood trees with needles or scalelike foliage and conelike fruit. Most often evergreen; most also have soft wood.
[Omens]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding deciduous conifer

Deciduous Conifer rare species of tree which form cones and sprout needles like conifer trees, yet change colors during Fall and have softer needles, shed annually like deciduous trees.
[Omens]

PART 4: FOREST LAYERS

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding forest floor

Forest Floor – contains decomposing leaves and needles, animal droppings, fallen trees. Decay becomes soil, feeding ferns, flowers, fungi, grasses, and tree seedlings. Relatively clear of vegetation because of low sunlight, unless near a riverbank, swamp, or clearing.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding understory

Understory Layer – relatively open but dark layer of young trees, bushes, shrubs, snags, and leafy herbaceous plants, supports terrestrial fauna and with waterways or clearings can become thicket.
[Passageways, Abyss]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding canopy

Canopy Layer holds the majority of the biodiversity, marked by tall trees and overlapping treetop connected by branches, twigs, leaves, vines, mosses, and lichens, supporting various animals.
[Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding emergent

Emergent Layer – features giant crowned trees which soar above the canopy and experience high sunlight, temperatures, and winds, but lower humidity.
[Omens, Overlooks]

PART 5: AGES – SNAG, OLD GROWTH, SECONDARY GROWTH

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding snag successions
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding snag forest

Snag Forest / Complex Early Seral Forestmarked by standing limbless or leafless trees, these develop after a natural stand-replacing disturbance like wildfire or insect outbreaks, but before a closed canopy returns, and support rich biodiversity from remaining biomass and habitat variation.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding old growth

Old Growth develops over a long period without catastrophic disturbance, featuring multiple ages of trees, including very tall trees, as well as large dead standing trees, and fallen ones.
[Omens, Overlooks, Passageways]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding secondary forest

Secondary Growth develops as recovery from large scale tree extraction, with reduced biodiversity compared to Snag Forests because of reduced nutrients, structure, and water retention.
[Omens, Passageways]

PART 6: TREE GROUP TERMS

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding copse
Copse – a small group of trees, especially trees cut down to stools (living stumps) which can produce shoots for periodic harvest as multiple, smaller wood regrowth segments.
[
Omens, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding grove
Grove – a small group of trees with minimal or no undergrowth.
[Settlements, Omens, Passageways, Battlegrounds]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding hammock
Hammock – stands of trees, usually hardwood, forming an ecological island in a contrasting ecosystem (e.g. prairie, marsh, sand dune).
[Settlements, Omens, Passageways, Abyss]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding stand
Stand a group of trees of similar species, age, and condition, perceivable as a unit.
[Settlements, Omens, Passageways]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding thicket
Thicket – a very dense stand of trees or tall shrubs, often with minimal diversity.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]

PART 7: TROPICAL FORESTS

Tropical Forests have two seasons: wet and dry. Consistent sunlight and temperature, and abundant rainfall. Little fertile soil, but highest biodiversity.

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding monsoon season
Monsoon Season – seasonal wind reversal brings a wet season, often with significant rains.
[Omens]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding tropical evergreen
Tropical Evergreen Rainforest – rain year-round, no dry season.
[Settlements, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding tropical moist broadleaf
Tropical & Subtropical Moist Broadleaf / Seasonal / Semi-Evergreen / Monsoon Rainforest short dry season, some seasonal variation with deciduous upper tree story and evergreen lower tree story. Contains Montane, Laurel, and Flooded subtypes.
[Settlements, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding tropical cloud forest

Montane / Cloud Forest – most precipitation from mist or fog that rises, mostly conifers. Subset of Monsoon Rainforest.
[Settlements, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding laurel forest

Laurel Forests – characterized by broadleaf trees with glossy, elongated, evergreen leaves, found in areas with high humidity and relatively stable, mild temperatures. Subset of Montane / Cloud Forests.
[Settlements, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding flooded forest
Flooded Forestswaterlogged forests, including freshwater swamps and peat swamp forests mentioned in Part 2: Wetlands. Subset of Monsoon Rainforest.
[Settlements, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding tropical dry
Tropical & Subtropical Dry Broadleaf Forests long dry season in which trees lose leaves.
[Settlements, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding tropical conifer
Tropical & Subtropical Coniferous Forests dry and warm climate with conifers adapted to variable weather.
[
Settlements, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]

PART 8: TEMPERATE FORESTS

Temperate Forests have four seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Sunlight, temperature, and rainfall vary. Much fertile soil.

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding spring

Spring Season
[Omens]


otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding summer

Summer Season
[
Omens]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding autumn
Fall Season
[
Omens]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding winter
Winter Season
[
Omens]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding moist conifer and evergreen broadleaf

Moist Coniferous & Evergreen Broadleaf Forest mild wet winters and dry summers.
[Settlements, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding dry coniferous

Dry Coniferous Forest at higher elevations; little rainfall except in winter.
[Settlements, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding mediterranean forest
Mediterranean Forest south of temperate coastal regions, with dry summers and rainy winters; almost all trees evergreen.
[Settlements, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding temperate rainforest
Temperate Broadleaf Rainforest mild, frost-free winters, lots of rain throughout the whole year, evergreen.
[
Settlements, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]

PART 9: BOREAL FORESTS

Boreal Forests, also called Taiga, have two seasons: a short, moist, mildly-warm summer, and a long, cold, dry winter. Precipitation often comes as snow. Minimal soil.
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding taiga summer
Summer Season
[
Omens]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding taiga winter
Winter Season
[
Omens]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding closed canopy taiga

Closed Canopy Boreal Forest – southernmost taiga, with trees closely-spaced, and mossy groundcover; clearings may have shrubs and wildflowers.
[Settlements, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding sparse taiga

Lichen Woodland / Sparse Taiga – northernmost taiga, with trees farther-spaced (often stunted too), and lichen groundcover.
[Settlements, Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]

PART 10: TRANSITIONAL FORESTS

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding mangrove
Mangrove / Mangal – coastal swamps featuring mangroves, a shrub or small tree in saline or brackish water, where fine sediment, often high in organic matter, collects in areas protected from strong waves. Discussed in Part 2: Wetlands.
[Omens, Overlooks, Passageways]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding savanna
Savanna mixed woodland and grassland with widely spaced trees and thus no closed canopy, supporting grasses.
[Settlements, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding dry sclerophyll
Sclerophyllous Dry Forest forest emphasizing heat-resistant vegetation bearing hard leaves of short intervals between one another, and leaf orientation parallel or oblique to direct sunlight.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding thorn forest
Thorn Forest – dry subtropical and warm temperate areas with short, thorny, deciduous trees and some rainfall; grades into savanna woodland with more rainfall and desert with less.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding woodlands
Woodland / Woodlot – low-density forest with plenty of open habitat and sunlight.
[Settlements, Passageways, Battlegrounds]

PART 11: SPECIAL FORESTS

Certain tree species and rare forest types deserve extra attention for fantasy worldbuilding considerations because they show interesting possibilities already in the real world to draw upon and enhance.
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding baobob forest
Baobob Forests – marked by arid-adapted trees with massive swollen trunks.
[Settlements, Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss, Battlegrounds]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding bamboo forest
Bamboo Forests – comprised of tall bamboo.
[Overlooks, Passageways]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding Dragon's Blood Forests
Dragon’s Blood Forests – marked by an evergreen tree with upturned, densely packed crowns shaped like umbrellas.
[Omens, Passageways]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding jungle
Jungle colloquially, tropical rainforests with dense overgrowth like vines, and more predatory fauna; more of a trope from colonial discourse than an official term.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding sequoia forest
Giant Redwood Forests – marked by a tree species which can grow to colossal size and age.
[Omens, Overlooks, Passageways]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding grapetree forests
Grapetree Forests – marked by a tree species which grows grapefruit directly on its trunk.
[Settlements, Passageways]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding kapok forest
Kapok Forests – marked by a tree species which grows massive thorns from its trunk.
[Omens]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding rainbow eucalyptus
Rainbow Eucalyptus Forests – marked by a eucalyptus tree species which develops rainbow-hued bark.
[Omens, Passageways]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding spider tree forests
Spider Tree Forests – feature trees overrun with spiderwebs, often from spiders fleeing floods.
[Omens, Passageways, Abyss]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding tetrameles forests
Tetrameles Forests – marked by tree species capable of gigantic size and overgrowth.
[Settlements, Omens, Overlooks, Passageways, Abyss]

PART 12: TREE DEFORMATIONS & DAMAGES

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding burl
Burl / Burr – round tree growth deformation on a knotted trunk or branch.
[Omens]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding crooked forest
Crooked Trees – mysteriously crooked pine trees.
[Omens, Passageways]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding drunken trees
Drunken Trees / Tilted Trees – a stand of trees displaced from normal vertical alignment, often from frost heaving of soil.
[Omens, Passageways]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding gall
Gall – abnormal outgrowths formed by swelling, pathological tissue caused by various infections or infestations.
[
Omens]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding geoxyle
Geoxyle / Underground Trees – a tree with an enlarged, woody structure underground, adapted to both flooding and wildfires.
[Omens]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding snag
Snag – a dead or dying tree.
[Omens]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding witches broom
Witch’s Broom a parasitic tree deformity where a dense mass of shoots grows from a single point, resulting in a broom-like or nest-like structure.
[Omens]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding windsnap
Windsnap – trees broken at the trunk by wind.
[Omens]
otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding windthrow
Windthrow / Blowdown – trees uprooted by wind.
[Omens]

PART 13: WOOD SEASONS

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding earlywood latewood

Earlywood / Springwood – lighter-colored, softer, more porous wood cells from the beginning of a tree’s growing season. [Omens]

Latewood / Summerwood – darker-colored, harder, less porous wood cells from late in a tree’s growing season. [Omens]

otherworldly incantations forest worldbuilding sapwood hardwood
Heartwood the darker, central core of a tree, made up of dense, dead wood, which provides strength. [Omens]
Sapwood – the lighter, outer rim of a tree, made up of living wood, which transports water and minerals. [Omens]

FINAL THOUGHTS

I hope you enjoyed this fifth entry in my Mythic Ecology series! I look forward to continuing with it, I have some greater ambitions for developing this series into worldbuilding web tools. Give this a share if you liked it, and let me know in the comments if you have any feedback. I publish new posts on Tuesdays. In the meantime, I post original D&D memes and writing updates daily over on my site’s Facebook Page. Also, if you want to keep up-to-date on all my posts, check out my Newsletter Sign-Up to receive email notifications when I release new posts. A big thanks as always to my Patrons on Patreon, helping keep this project going: Anthony, Chris, Eric & Jones, Geoff, Jason, Rudy, and Tom. Thanks for your support!

Liked it? Take a second to support Tril on Patreon!

Tril

D&D 5e blogger.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

error

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)

Back To Top
Otherworldly Incantations