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Forests once covered nearly all of France, but people have drastically changed the natural landscape. The plant life varies with the climate and soil. Under the moderate conditions of the oceanic climate are the remains of broadleaf deciduous forests that once covered the land, with oaks and beeches being most typical. Other common species included maples, chestnuts, and ashes. Holly and other shrubs grew thickly on the forest floor.

To the north and east, and at higher elevations, where colder winters are more common, needleleaf evergreen trees, especially pines, spruces, and firs, became dominant. Conifers, particularly pines, are also found in sandy soils, especially along the coasts. Combinations of strong winds and poor granitic soils along parts of the Atlantic coast, especially in Brittany, prevented forests from thriving, and such hardy plants as broom, furze, and heather are common. Small shrubs of the Alpine tundra grow above the tree line in the higher Alps and Pyrenees.

The Mediterranean fringe, with its dry summers, has unusual plants that adapt to seasonal drought. They include a group of low shrubs with small leaves, deep roots, thick bark, and other water-saving traits. This group is generally known as maquis, mainly in Corsica. A slightly different form, called garigue, grows on the dry limestone hills of Provence. Some drought-adapted trees, such as pines, olives, and live oaks, also grow along the Mediterranean. France's only major area of natural grassland is the Rhone river delta, known as the Camargue.