Traditionally, the forests of the region have been divided into three zones: an oak-chestnut forest in Connecticut , Rhode Island , and far eastern Massachusetts ; a hemlock–white pine–transition hardwood forest in central and western Massachusetts, southern New Hampshire , Vermont , and Maine ; and a spruce–northern hardwood forest in northern New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. Of course, this greatly simplifies a landscape in which 50 different species of trees each have their own range and habitat—but it does provide a good working framework for understanding local fauna.
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire may have been part of the holidays for early New Englanders, but those days are sadly gone. After surviving in New England for millions of years, the mighty chestnut was wiped out by a blight imported from Japan in the early part of the 20th century. The forests of southern and eastern New England, however, are still abundant with red oak, scarlet oak, hickory, maple, birch, and beech. In the wetlands of Rhode Island  and southeastern Massachusetts , the landscape is dominated by red maple and Atlantic white cedar, which thrives in swampy ground. Along the coast, larger trees give way to hardy pitch pine and scrub oak more suited to salty air and sandy soils.
Central New England has a good mix of broadleaf trees and evergreens. The forest here is dominated by oak and maple—including the famous sugar maple that yields the region’s annual crop of maple syrup every spring. The most common tree is the white oak, named for the color of its bark and prized both for its straight timber and wide-spreading canopy. Arguably, this is the best region for leaf-peeping, since maples produce some of the brightest colors, while oaks are slower to turn, extending the season and providing a range of colors at any one time. White pine becomes more common as you travel north, where it can frequently be found growing on reclaimed agricultural land. That tree has smoother bark than its cousin, the red or Norway pine; to tell them apart, count the needles: White pines grow in clusters of five (W-H-I-T-E), while red grow in clusters of three (R-E-D). Other trees growing in this region include hemlock and ash.
In the Great North Woods  of northern New England, the deciduous trees eventually give way to endless tracts of boreal forest, consisting of spruce and fir. Unlike pines, whose needles grow in clusters, spruce and fir needles are directly attached to the stem. These coniferous trees are better suited to the short growing season and nutrient-poor soil of Maine , and provided an endless source of timber for shipbuilding and fuel. Mixed in with the evergreens is an understory of hardy broadleaf trees, including aspen, beech, and birch. Few New England scenes are more iconic than a stand of white-and-black-striped birch trees in winter, or festooned with canary-yellow leaves in fall.