Patches of Elfin Forest surrounded by shrubs and grasses.

Definition: The Elfin forest or stunted forest is a short gnarled forest of generally 1 -10 meters (3-30 feet) of height. It generally shows a single story or layer with a dense and nearly impenetrable tangle of trees and shrubs. The canopy is compact, and depending on its location, often streamlined by the relentless wind. The trunks, branches, and the forest floor are covered in moss, lichens, orchids, and other epiphyte plants.

elfin-forest patch
A patch of an elfin forest of short stature in Huanuco, central Peru.

Where do we find Elfin Forest

Elfin Forest is found in mountains generally at high altitudes. In the Neotropical mountains, elfin forests are found at elevations of 3200 to 3800 meters ( 10,500 – 12,400 feet)  above sea level (asl) generally below the Paramo habitat. Elfin forests are also found at elevations as low as 900 meters on exposed ridges and rain-drenched mountain tops. Elfin forests generally are located in areas of nutrient-poor soils.

Side view of a mixed elfin forest.


View of the interior of a typical Elfin Forest showing trunks and branches covered in moss, ferns, and other epiphyte plants.

Floristic Composition of the Elfin Forest

The elfin forest is a dwarf and stunted version of the surrounding forest. Family and genus of shrubs and tree species are represented by different species in the patches of elfin forests. Typical shrubs include Befaria (Ericaceae), Brunelia (Bruneliaceae), Clusia (Clusiae), Gynoxys (Compositaciae), Ilex (Aquifoleacea), Miconia (Melastomaceae), and Escallonia (Escalloniae) among the more common species.

See more Neotropical bird habitats.

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Cavelier, Jaime; Goldstein, Guillermo (August 1989). “Mist and fog interception in elfin cloud forests in Colombia and Venezuela“. Journal of Tropical Ecology5 (3): 309–322.

Neotropical Birds: Ecology and Conservation.  Stotz Douglas F., Fitzpatrick John W., Parker Theodore A. III, and Moskovits Debra K. University of Chicago Press, 1996.

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