A steppe is a form of landscape. The word comes from Russian and means something like “undeveloped area” or “treeless landscape”. Grass grows in the steppe instead of trees. Some steppes are covered with tall grass, others with low ones. But there are also mosses, lichens, and low shrubs such as heather.
Trees don’t grow in steppes because it doesn’t rain enough. Trees need a lot of water. When it rains more than usual, at most shrubs appear. But there is also the so-called forest steppe, with individual “islands” of small forests. Sometimes there are no trees because the soil is too bad or mountainous.
Steppes are mostly in the temperate climate, as we know it in Europe. The weather is harsh, in winter and it gets cold at night. Some steppes are closer to the tropics and it does rain a lot. But because it is so warm there, a lot of water evaporates again.
The largest steppe in the world is in Europe and Asia. It is also called “the great steppe”. From the Austrian Burgenland, it runs far into Russia and even to the north of China. The prairie in North America is also a steppe.
What good are steppes?
Steppes are habitats for many different animals. There are species of antelope, pronghorn, and special species of llamas that can only live in the steppe. The buffalo, i.e. the bison in America, are also typical steppe animals. In addition, many different rodents live under the ground, such as prairie dogs in North America.
Today, many farmers keep huge herds of cattle in the steppe. These include buffalo, cattle, horses, sheep, goats, and camels. In many places, there is enough water to plant corn or wheat. Most of the wheat harvested in the world today comes from the steppes of North America, Europe, and Asia.
The grasses are also very important. Already in the Stone Age, man cultivated today’s grain from some species of them. So people always took the biggest seeds and sowed them again. Without the steppe, we would be missing a large part of our food today.