Natural Vegetation of India

  • Natural vegetation refers to a plant community which has grown naturally without human aid and has been left undisturbed by humans for a long time. This is termed as a virgin vegetation. Thus, cultivated crops, fruits and orchards form part of vegetation but not natural vegetation.
  • The term flora is used to denote plants of a particular region or period. Similarly, the species of animals are referred to as fauna. This huge diversity in flora and fauna kingdom is due to the following factors.
  • India is a land of great variety of natural vegetation. Himalayan heights are marked with temperate vegetation; the Western Ghats and the Andaman Nicobar Islands have tropical rainforests, the deltaic regions have tropical forests and mangroves; the desert and semi desert areas of Rajasthan are known for cacti, a wide variety of bushes and thorny vegetation. Depending upon the variations in the climate and the soil, the vegetation of India changes from one region to another. Our country India is one of the twelve mega biodiversity countries of the world. With about 47,000 plant species India occupies tenth place in the world and fourth in Asia in plant diversity. There are about 15,000 flowering plants in India which account for 6 per cent in the world’s total number of flowering plants. The country has many non-flowering plants such as ferns, algae and fungi.
  • On the basis of certain common features such as predominant vegetation type and climatic regions, Indian forests can be divided into the following groups:
    • Tropical Evergreen and Semi Evergreen forests
    • Tropical Deciduous forests
    • Tropical Thorn forests
    • Montane forests
    • Littoral and Swamp forests.

5.1. Tropical Evergreen and Semi Evergreen Forests

  • These forests are found in the western slope of the Western Ghats, hills of the northeastern region and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. They are found in warm and humid areas with an annual precipitation of over 200 cm and mean annual temperature above 22oC.
  • Tropical evergreen forests are well stratified, with layers closer to the ground and are covered with shrubs and creepers, with short structured trees followed by a tall variety of trees. In these forests, trees reach great heights up to 60 m or above. There is no definite time for trees to shed their leaves, flowering and fruition. As such these forests appear green all the year round. Species found in these forests include rosewood, mahogany, aini, ebony, etc.
  • The semi evergreen forests are found in the less rainy parts of these regions. Such forests have a mixture of evergreen and moist deciduous trees. The under growing climbers provide an evergreen character to these forests. Main species are white cedar, hollock and kail.

5.2. Tropical Deciduous Forests

  • These are the most widespread forests in India. They are also called the monsoon forests. They spread over regions which receive rainfall between 70-200cm. On the basis of the availability of water, these forests are further divided into moist and dry deciduous.
  • The Moist deciduous forests:
    • Theseare more pronounced in the regions which record rainfall between 100-200cm.
    • These forests are found in the northeastern states along the foothills of Himalayas, eastern slopes of the Western Ghats and Orissa.
    • Teak, sal, shisham, hurra, mahua, amla, semul, kusum, and sandalwood etc. are the main species of these forests.
  • Dry deciduous forest:
    • Thiscovers vast areas of the country, where rainfall ranges between 70 -100 cm. On the wetter margins, it has a transition to the moist deciduous, while on the drier margins to thorn forests.
    • These forests are found in rainier areas of the Peninsula and the plains of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
    • In the higher rainfall regions of the Peninsular plateau and the northern Indian plain, these forests have a parkland landscape with open stretches in which teak and other trees interspersed with patches of grass are common.
    • As the dry season begins, the trees shed their leaves completely and the forest appears like a vast grassland with naked trees all around.
    • Tendu, palas, amaltas, bel, khair, axlewood, etc. are the common trees of these forests.
    • In the western and southern part of Rajasthan, vegetation cover is very scanty due to low rainfall and overgrazing.

5.3. Tropical Thorn Forests

  • Tropical thorn forests occur in the areas which receive rainfall less than 50 cm.
  • These consist of a variety of grasses and shrubs.
  • It includes semi-arid areas of south west Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
  • In these forests, plants remain leafless for most part of the year and give an expression of scrub vegetation.
  • Important species found are babool, ber, and wild date palm, khair, neem, khejri, palas, etc. Tussocky grass grows upto a height of 2 m as the undergrowth.

5.4. Montane Forests

  • In mountainous areas, the decrease in temperature with increasing altitude leads to a corresponding change in natural vegetation. Mountain forests can be classified into two types, the northern mountain forests and the southern mountain forests.
  • The Northern Mountain Forests: The Himalayan ranges show a succession of vegetation from the tropical to the tundra, which change in with the altitude.
    • Deciduous forests are found in the foothills of the Himalayas.
    • It is succeeded by the wet temperate type of forests between an altitude of 1,000-2,000 m.
    • In the higher hill ranges of northeastern India, hilly areas of West Bengal and Uttaranchal, evergreen broadleaf trees such as oak and chestnut are predominant.
    • Between 1,500-1,750 m, pine forests are also well-developed in this zone, with Chir Pine as a very useful commercial tree.
    • Deodar, a highly valued endemic species grows mainly in the western part of the Himalayan range. Deodar is a durable wood mainly used in construction activity. Similarly, the chinar and the walnut, which sustain the famous Kashmir handicrafts, belong to this zone.
    • Blue pine and spruce appear at altitudes of 2,225-3,048 m. At many places in this zone, temperate grasslands are also found.
    • But in the higher reaches there is a transition to Alpine forests and pastures. Silver firs, junipers, pines, birch and rhododendrons, etc. occur between 3,000-4,000 m. However, these pastures are used extensively for transhumance by tribes like the Gujjars, the Bakarwals, the Bhotiyas and the Gaddis.
    • The southern slopes of the Himalayas carry a thicker vegetation cover because of relatively higher precipitation than the drier north-facing slopes.
    • At higher altitudes, mosses and lichens form part of the tundra vegetation.
  • The southern mountain forests: Itincludes the forests found in three distinct areas of Peninsular India viz; the Western Ghats, the Vindhyas and the Nilgiris. As they are closer to the tropics, and only 1,500 m above the sea level, vegetation is temperate in the higher regions, and subtropical on the lower regions of the Western Ghats, especially in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The temperate forests are called Sholas in the Nilgiris, Anaimalai and Palani hills. Some of the other trees of this forest of economic significance include, magnolia, laurel, cinchona and wattle. Such forests are also found in the Satpura and the Maikal ranges.

5.5. Littoral and Swamp Forests

  • India has a rich variety of wetland habitats. About 70 percent of this comprises areas under paddy cultivation. The total area of wetland is 3.9 million hectares. Two sites — Chilika Lake (Orissa) and Keoladeo National Park (Bharatpur) are protected as water-fowl habitats under the Convention of Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention).
  • The country’s wetlands have been grouped into eight categories, viz.
    • the reservoirs of the Deccan Plateau in the south together with the lagoons and other wetlands of the southern west coast;
    • the vast saline expanses of Rajasthan, Gujarat and the Gulf of Kachchh;
    • freshwater lakes and reservoirs from Gujarat eastwards through Rajasthan (Keoladeo National Park) and Madhya Pradesh;
    • the delta wetlands and lagoons of India’s east coast (Chilika Lake);
    • the freshwater marshes of the Gangetic Plain;
    • the floodplains of the Brahmaputra; the marshes and swamps in the hills of northeast India and the Himalayan foothills;
    • the lakes and rivers of the montane region of Kashmir and Ladakh; and
    • the mangrove forest and other wetlands of the island arcs of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
  • Mangroves grow along the coasts in the salt marshes, tidal creeks, mud flats and estuaries. They consist of a number of salt-tolerant species of plants. Crisscrossed by creeks of stagnant water and tidal flows, these forests give shelter to a wide variety of birds.
  • In India, the mangrove forests spread over 6,740 sq. km which is 7 percent of the world’s mangrove forests. They are highly developed in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Sundarbans of West Bengal. Other areas of significance are the Mahanadi, the Godavari and the Krishna deltas. These forests too, are being encroached upon, and hence, need conservation.

5.6. State of Forest Report 2019

  • The report is published by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) which has been mandated to assess the forest and tree resources of the country including wall-to-wall forest cover mapping in a biennial cycle.
  • Starting 1987, 16 assessments have been completed so far. ISFR 2019 is the 16th report in the series.
  • India is among few countries in the world where forest cover is consistently increasing.
  • The total forest and tree cover of the country is 80.73 million hectare which is 24.56 percent of the geographical area of the country.
  • Compared to the assessment of 2017, there is an increase of 5,188 sq. km in the total forest and tree cover of the country.
  • Out of this, the increase in the forest cover has been observed as 3,976 sq. km and that in tree cover is 1,212 sq. km; Range increase in forest cover has been observed in open forest followed by very dense forest and moderately dense forest and the top three states showing increase in forest cover are Karnataka (1,025 sq. km) followed by Andhra Pradesh (990 sq. km) and Kerala (823 sq. km).”

5.6.1. Some Major Findings of the report

  • Area-wise Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover in the country followed by Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Maharashtra.
  • In terms of forest cover as percentage of total geographical area, the top five States are Mizoram (85.41%), Arunachal Pradesh (79.63%), Meghalaya (76.33%), Manipur (75.46%) and Nagaland (75.31%).
  • The Mangrove ecosystems are unique & rich in biodiversity and they provide numerous ecological services.
  • Mangrove cover has been separately reported in the ISFR 2019 and the total mangrove cover in the country is 4,975 sq. km.
  • An increase of 54 sq. Km in mangrove cover has been observed as compared to the previous assessment of 2017.
  • Top three states showing mangrove cover increase are Gujarat (37 sq. km) followed by Maharashtra (16 sq. km) and Odisha (8 sq. km). 
  • The total growing stock of India’s forest and TOF is estimated 5,915.76 million come of which 4,273.47 million come inside the forests and 1,642.29 million come outside.
  • There is an increase of 93.38 million come from total growing stock, as compared to the previous assessment.
  • Out of this increase in growing stock, there is an increase of 55.08 million come inside the forests and 38.30 million come outside the forest areas.
  • The extent of the bamboo bearing area of the country has been estimated at 16.00 million hectares.
  • There is an increase of 0.32 million hectare in bamboo bearing area as compared to the last assessment of ISFR 2017.
  • The total estimated green weight of bamboo culms is 278 million tonnes, slowly an increase of 88 million tonnes as compared to ISFR 2017.
  • Under the current assessment the total carbon stock in the country’s forest is estimated at 7,124.6 million tonnes and there is an increase of 42.6 million tonnes in the carbon stock of the country as compared to the last assessment of 2017.
  • The annual increase in the carbon stock is 21.3 million tonnes, which is 78.2 million tonnes CO2 eq.
  • Wetlands within forest areas form important ecosystems and add richness to the biodiversity in forest areas, both of faunal and floral species. Due to the importance of wetlands, FSI has carried out an exercise at the national level to identify wetlands of more than 1 ha within RFA.
  • There are 62,466 wetlands covering 3.8% of the area within the RFA/GW of the country

5.6.2. Methodology

  • In tune with the Government of India’s vision of Digital India, FSI’s assessment is largely based on digital data whether it is satellite data, vector boundaries of districts or data processing of field measurements.
  • The report provides information on forest cover, tree cover, mangrove cover, growing stock inside and outside the forest areas, carbon stock in India’s forests, Forest Types and Biodiversity, Forest Fire monitoring and forest cover in different slopes & altitudes.
  • Special thematic information on forest cover such as hill, tribal districts, and north eastern region has also been given separately in the report.
  • The biennial assessment of forest cover of the country using mid-resolution Satellite data is based on interpretation of LISS-III data from Indian Remote Sensing satellite data Resourcesat-II.
  • This information provides inputs for various global level inventories, reports such as GHG Inventory, Growing Stock, Carbon Stock, Forest Reference Level (FRL) and international reporting to UNFCCC, targets under CCD, Global Forest Resource Assessment (GFRA) done by FAO for planning and scientific management of forests.
  • For the first time, Ortho-rectified satellite data has been used for forest cover mapping due to its better positional accuracy as it removes effects of image perspective (tilt) and relief (terrain) and scale distortions in the image to represent features in its true positions for accurate measurement of distances, angels and areas.
  • FSI, in a first ever attempt has carried out a rapid assessment of biodiversity for all the States and UTs (except two) and for all the sixteen Forest Type Groups as per Champion & Seth Classification (1968).
  • Apart from the number of trees, shrub and herb species as observed in the survey, Shannon Wiener Index which gives species richness along with the relative abundance, has also been calculated for each forest type group in each State & UT.
  • FSI has carried out mapping of forest types of India as per the Champion & Seth Classification (1968), for the first time in the year 2011 based on the baseline forest cover data of 2005.

5.6.3. Other Highlights

  • A study to assess the dependence of the people living in close proximity to forests for their day to day needs like fuel wood, fodder, small timber and bamboo was undertaken by FSI.
  • The present report also gives information on the fire prone forest areas of different severity classes, mapped in the grids of 5km x 5km based on the frequency of forest fires in the last 14 years that would enable the SFDs to manage and control forest fires effectively in the respective States.
  • Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) are an important source of livelihood for many tribal communities and villagers living in the proximity of forests.
  • New information has been generated from the national forest inventory data about the top five NTFP species in each State & UT in terms of their availability in forests i.e. relative occurrence.
  • Invasive species pose serious threat to the sustainable management of forests. Analysis of NFI data has been done for determining five major invasive species in each State & UT and also an estimate of the area affected by them.
  • The information given in the report would provide valuable information for policy, planning and sustainable management of forest and tree resources in the country.

5.6.4. India’s Forests and Forest Resources in the World

  • Global Forest Resource Assessment (FRA) done by FAO once in five years provides information about the forest resources of almost all the countries in the world.
  • The latest report of GFRA has been released by FAO in the year 2015.
  • Status of the top ten to twelve countries in respect of forest area, change in forest area, growing stock and forest carbon as per the GFRA 2015 are presented as follows.

5.6.5. Objectives of the Nation-Wide Forest Cover Mapping

  • To monitor forest cover and changes therein at the National, State and District levels
  • To generate information on forest cover in different density classes and changes therein
  • To produce forest cover and other thematic maps derived from it for the whole country
  • To provide primary base layer for assessment of different parameters including growing stock, forest carbon etc.
  • To provide information for international reporting

5.6.6. Limitations of the Forest Cover Mapping

  • Since the resolution of the LISS III sensor data is 23.5 m, land cover features having a geometric dimension less than 23.5 m on the ground are not discernible.
  • Considerable ground details may sometimes be obscured due to clouds and shadows. Such areas can be discerned to a certain extent with the help of collateral data and image processing techniques, but not always.
  • Non-availability of appropriate season data sometimes puts constraints on the interpretation of the features owing to poor reflectance of data and phenological changes in forests.
  • Occurrence of weeds like lantana in forest areas and agricultural crops like sugarcane, cotton, etc. adjacent to forests, causes mixing of spectral signatures and often make precise forest cover delineation difficult.
  • Young plantations and tree species with less chlorophyll or inadequate foliage, many a times are not discernable on satellite images due to inadequate reflectance.
  • Haze and other atmospheric distortions pose difficulty in interpretation, especially in the coastal areas.

5.7. Forest Conservation

  • Forests have an intricate interrelationship with life and environment. These provide numerous direct and indirect advantages to our economy and society. Hence, conservation of forest is of vital importance to the survival and prosperity of humankind. Accordingly, the Government of India proposed to have a nation-wide forest conservation policy, and adopted a forest policy in 1952, which was further modified in 1988. According to the new forest policy, the Government will emphasize sustainable forest management in order to conserve and expand forest reserves on the one hand, and to meet the needs of local people on the other.
  • The forest policy aimed at: 
    • bringing 33 percent of the geographical areas under forest cover;
    • maintaining environmental stability and to restore forests where ecological balance was disturbed;
    • conserving the natural heritage of the country, its biological diversity and genetic pool;
    • checks soil erosion, extension of the desert lands and reduction of floods and droughts;
    • increasing the forest cover through social forestry and afforestation on degraded land;
    • increasing the productivity of forests to make timber, fuel, fodder and food available to rural population dependent on forests, and encourage the substitution of wood;
    • creating a massive peoples movement involving women to encourage planting of trees, stop felling of trees and thus, reduce pressure on the existing forest.

Based on the forest conservation policy the following steps were initiated:

  • Social Forestry
    • Social forestry means the management and protection of forests and afforestation on barren lands with the purpose of helping in the environmental, social and rural development.
    • The National Commission on Agriculture (1976) has classified social forestry into three categories. These are Urban forestry, Rural forestry and Farm forestry. Urban forestry pertains to the raising and management of trees on public and privately owned lands in and around urban centres such as green belts, parks, roadside avenues, industrial and commercial green belts, etc. Rural forestry lays emphasis on promotion of agroforestry and community-forestry.
    • Agroforestry is the raising of trees and agriculture crops on the same land inclusive of the waste patches. It combines forestry with agriculture, thus, altering the simultaneous production of food, fodder, fuel, timber and fruit. Community forestry involves the raising of trees on public or community land such as the village pasture and temple land, roadside, canal bank, strips along railway lines, and schools etc.
    • Community forestry programme aims at providing benefits to the community as a whole. Community forestry provides a means under which the people of landless classes can associate themselves in tree raising and thus, get those benefits which otherwise are restricted for landowners.
  • Farm Forestry
    • Farm forestry is a term applied to the process under which farmers grow trees for commercial and non-commercial purposes on their farm lands.
    • Forest departments of various states distribute seedlings of trees free of cost to small and medium farmers.
    • Several lands such as the margins of agricultural fields, grasslands and pastures, land around homes and cow sheds may be used for raising trees under non-commercial farm forestry.


  1. Contemporary India-I by NCERT
  2. India: Physical Environment by NCERT
  3. India Year Book

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