Around 30 percent of the world’s landmass is covered by forests. Generally defined as areas of land with a high density of trees, they play a vital role in carbon management, accounting for almost half of all carbon stored on land.
Some of the biggest forests in the world are rainforests. As the name suggests, these are forests that receive high amounts of rainfall, and they tend to have very tall evergreen trees. Typically thriving in tropical regions, they are found on every continent except Antarctica, helping to regulate the Earth’s climate and acting as a major source of food and oxygen for the planet.
So, what is the world’s largest forest? And what’s the largest rainforest in the world? Read on as we sort the world’s biggest forests from the trees.
Types of Forest
Before looking at the world’s biggest forests, let’s examine different categories. Forests tend to be classed primarily according to their climates, the three main types being: tropical, temperate and boreal.
Tropical forests are characterised by their high level of biodiversity, as well as their abundant amount of rainfall. They are found in tropical climates and usually close to the equator, including in Central and South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.
Temperate forests are found in the middle latitudes of the Earth, between the tropics and the polar regions. These forests typically have four distinct seasons – winter, spring, summer, and autumn – and are home to a variety of plant and animal species.
Boreal forests are found in the northernmost parts of the world, stretching across North America, Europe, and Asia. Located in high altitudes and in places where temperatures remain below freezing for around half the year, these forests are characterised by their coniferous trees, which have needles instead of leaves. The needles of these trees are specially adapted to survive in the cold, harsh conditions of the boreal forest.
Having defined the different types of forest, we can now examine which specific locations contain the largest forests in the world.
1. Amazon Rainforest
Location: South America | Size: 2,100,000 square miles
The Amazon is the largest forest in the world, the largest rainforest in the world and one of the most biodiverse and unique ecosystems on Earth. Also known as the Amazon jungle or Amazonia, this tropical rainforest covers over two million square miles. Not only does this make it the world’s largest forest, but it also comprises over half of the planet’s remaining rainforest.
The area of the Amazon is spread between nine countries, including Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela. However it is Brazil that holds the lion’s share, housing around 60 percent of the rainforest within its borders.
The Amazon is home to an incredible variety of plant and animal life. It is said to contain millions of species of birds, plants and insects, of which the latter alone account for some 2.5 million known types. There are an estimated 16,000 species of trees in the Amazon, and that’s just the beginning. According to the World Wildlife Fund, a new species is discovered every three days on average.
Amongst the wonders found in the Amazon is the kapok tree, which can grow up to 50 metres tall and is the largest tree in the rainforest. The Amazon is also home to the world’s largest butterfly, the Morpho butterfly, which has a wingspan of up to 30 centimetres.
However, the existence of the world’s largest forest and its wildlife is under severe threat, particularly from deforestation. It is estimated that 20 percent of the rainforest has already been lost, with a hectare said to be cut down every minute.
2. Boreal Forest of Canada
Location: North America | Size: 1,040,000 square miles
The boreal zone is a critical ecosystem that covers much of the northern hemisphere. Encircling a section of the entire planet across North America, Europe, and Asia, it makes up fourteen percent of the Earth’s land surface, making it the world’s largest forest zone. And it plays a crucial role in the global carbon cycle.
The Canadian boreal forest represents the largest intact forest within the boreal zone. It covers over one million square miles of land, stretching from the west coast of British Columbia to the east coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. The boreal forest is home to a wide variety of plants and animals, including many iconic species like the Woodland caribou and the Canada lynx.
3. Congo Basin Rainforest
Location: Africa | Size: 300,000 square miles
The Congo Basin Rainforest is one of the most important forests in the world, home to a huge diversity of plant and animal life, including many endangered species. For example, nowhere else is home to all three subspecies of gorilla.
Exceeded in size only by the Amazon, the second largest rainforest in the world is said to span some 300,000 square miles, which is roughly the size of the nation of Türkiye. This is spread between the six African nations of Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo.
Also known as the Congo Rainforest, it plays a vital role in the global climate, helping to regulate weather patterns and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Despite this, the Congo Basin Rainforest is under threat from human activity. Deforestation, logging, and mining are all contributing to the destruction of this vital ecosystem. Every year, the Congo Basin Rainforest loses around 6,000 square miles of forest cover.
4. New Guinea Rainforest
Location: Southeast Asia | Size: 281,000 square miles
The third largest rainforest in the world is found on the island of New Guinea. This incredibly biodiverse forest is spread over both lowlands and mountains and has over 760 endemic bird species alone.
5. Valdivian Temperate Rainforest
Location: South America | Size: 95,800 square miles
Located mostly in Chile, but also partly in Argentina, the Valdivian Temperate Rainforest or “Selva Valdiviana” is said to be the world’s southernmost temperate rainforest. It provides a home to several endemic and rare species. Mammalian examples include the small marsupial known as the monito del monte, the Americas’ smallest native cat, the kodkod, and the world’s smallest deer, the southern pudú.
Biggest Forests in the World
The world’s biggest forests are like a magnifying glass, showing how all forests contribute to the health and wellbeing of our planet. They also shine a light on the major problem of deforestation. All of the biggest forests in the world have suffered a sharp decline over the years. Even the Amazon, the largest rainforest in the world, is shrinking at an alarming rate. The hope is that they can be conserved to remain just as big as they are.