What is Vegetation

Vegetation is an assemblage of plant species and the ground cover they provide. It is a general term, without specific reference to particular taxa, life forms, structure, spatial extent, or any other specific botanical or geographic characteristics.

Natural Vegetation

Also known as virgin vegetation, it is totally natural and is not touched by humans. It grows naturally without human aid. The examples include virgin forests, mangroves, etc.

Planted Vegetation

Planted vegetation is a human aided vegetation. It is an activity done by mainly farmers to yield crops. They need to be watered regularly, added fertilisers, pesticides, etc. to it for a proper and faster growth. In short, planted vegetation requires human interference.

Importance of Vegetation

Vegetation serves several critical functions in the biosphere, at all possible spatial scales.

  • First, vegetation regulates the flow of numerous biogeochemical cycles, most critically those of water, carbon, and nitrogen; it is also of great importance in local and global energy balances. Such cycles are important not only for global patterns of vegetation but also for those of climate.
  • Second, vegetation strongly affects soil characteristics, including soil volume, chemistry and texture, which feed back to affect various vegetational characteristics, including productivity and structure.
  • Third, vegetation serves as wildlife habitat and the energy source for the vast array of animal species on the planet. Vegetation is also critically important to the world economy, particularly in the use of fossil fuels as an energy source, but also in the global production of food, wood, fuel and other materials. Perhaps most importantly, vegetation has been the primary source of oxygen in the atmosphere, enabling the aerobic metabolism systems to evolve and persist.
  • Lastly, vegetation is psychologically important to humans, who evolved in direct contact with, and dependence on, vegetation, for food, shelter, and medicines.

Natural Vegetation in India

The focus in classification of natural vegetation in India is on identifying the dominant species and their ecological associations such as their mutual associations, adaptation, form and appearance. Due to varied climatic conditions, India has a wide range of natural vegetation.

Forest Cover in India

The forest cover in India is measured by Forest Survey of India (an organisation under the Ministry of Environment Forests, Government of India) since 1987.

Forest area is the total geographical area declared as forest by the government. As of 2019, the total forest cover in India is 24.39 percent of the total geographical area of the country.

Forest Area verses Forest Cover

It is important to distinguish the forest area from the forest cover. The forest area is the area notified and recorded as the forest land irrespective of the existence of trees and is based on the records of the State Revenue Department.

The forest cover is the area occupied by forests with canopy and is based on aerial photographs and satellite imageries. All lands, more than one hectare in area with a tree canopy density of more than 10 per cent is called forest cover. Such lands may not be statutorily notified as forest area.

For example, the forest cover of Lakshadweep Islands is around 90% and the forest area which is 0% there.

The statewise general trends in respect of the forest cover and forest area are as follows:

  1. Most of the states with less than 10 percent of the forest area lie in the north and northwestern part of the country. These are Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. Most of the forests in Punjab and Haryana have been cleared for cultivation.
  2. States with 10-20 percent forest area are Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
  3. In Peninsular India, excluding Tamil Nadu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Goa, the area under forest cover is 20-30 percent.
  4. The northeastern states have more than 30 percent of the land under forest. Hilly topography and heavy rainfall are good for forest growth.

Highest Cover (as per SFR 2017)

in terms of area in terms of percent
1 Madhya Pradesh (77,414 sq km) Lakshadweep (90.33%)
2 Arunachal Pradesh (66,964 sq km) Mizoram (86.27%)
3 Chhattisgarh (55,547 sq km) Andaman & Nicobar Island (81.73%)
There is a lot of variation in actual forest cover. 15 states/UT’s have above 33 percent of the geographical area under forest cover. Out of these, seven States/UTs namely Mizoram, Lakshadweep, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur have more than 75 percent forest cover.

On the basis of the percentage of the actual forest cover, the states have been grouped into four regions:

  1. The region of high concentration: 40%
  2. The region of medium concentration: 20-40%
  3. The region of low concentration: 10-20%
  4. The region of very low concentration: 10%