Prairie and Steppes

The North and South American prairies and the Asian and Australian steppes are grassland habitats that, unlike the savanna, undergo greater changes in season and temperature: hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Also called temperate grasslands, these habitats have evolved over thousands of years to withstand wind, storms, torrential rainfall, fire, and grazing by large animals. A prairie usually has taller grasses than a steppe; some of the dry, short-grass prairie of North America's Great Plains is also called a steppe.

Ocean and Coastline

Most people know what an ocean is, although there are many people around the world who have never seen one. But despite how they look, oceans are not one uniform type of habitat. The location and depth of an ocean affects the light, pressure, temperature, and available nutrients, and that determines what can live there. Most of the ocean is actually like a desert, with few resources for animals and plants to live on. But there are areas in the open ocean where underwater vents or volcanoes release minerals and gases that can support life.


Islands are found in almost every part of the world, so you can find many types of habitats on islands: rain forest, temperate forest, tundra, and desert.


Deserts are hot, dry places made up mostly of sand, rock, and mountains. In general, deserts are defined as areas where more water evaporates in the air than falls to the ground as rain.

Cactuses and Succulents

The term "succulent" is awarded to a plant based on what it does, not who its relatives are. Unlike plant groups named for their common evolution (such as grasses, roses, palms, orchids, or ferns), a succulent can be any plant—from any scientific family—that stores water in thick, fleshy tissues. In fact, the word "succulent" comes from the Latin word succulentus, which means "juicy."

Shrubs and Vines

Shrub and vine are terms used to describe a plant's growth habit, rather than a taxonomic grouping. Of the two, vines are one of the easiest to identify, because of their obvious efforts to find support for their weak stems. Shrubs, on the other hand, can, with careful pruning, easily be mistaken for trees.


When asked, “What is an herb?” King Charlemagne—who was an avid gardener and particularly fond of herbs—responded, “A friend of physicians and the praise of cooks.” The use of herbs for medical and culinary purposes has a long history: a 65-foot-long medical scroll from Egypt, dated at about 1550 BCE, lists 800 medicines that include many herbs.


Certain plants are known for their eye-catching blooms. Think of roses, orchids, carnations, and tulips. We often refer to these plants as "flowers." A flower, though, is just one part—and quite an important part—of a plant. Not all plants have flowers, but most (about 80 percent) do, including shrubs, grasses, herbs, and most trees. These plants are called angiosperms, or flowering plants.