What's the difference between heath, moor, steppe, prairie, savannah, veldt, meadow?

I mean, they all seem to refer to more or less flat ground with plenty of grass but few trees.

Those terms aren’t always perfectly defined, even amongst botanists/ecologists, but the general consensus is:

Heath is a low shrubland. IOW the dominant plant type is a multi-stemmed woody plant less than 5 metres tall. It isn’t accurate to say that heath has plenty of grass. Heathland can include grasses and herbs, but those plant forms don’t dominate. It also isn’t accurate to say that heath is more or less flat. Most of the world’s heathlands occupy skeletal or severely leached soils on moderate to steep slopes.

Moor is essentially synonymous with elevated marsh. A marsh is an essentially treeless system that is poorly drained and at least seasonally waterlogged. A moor is just the same but it exists at elevation WRT to the surrounding landscape, as opposed to ‘standard’ marshlands that exist mostly in riparian locales. Moors can be dominated by grass, but they can also be dominated by forbs, mosses or even heath.
Steppe and prairie are essentially synonymous. They are simply temperate open grasslands. Being grasslands they are dominated by grass and of course have few tress. Neither prairie nor step are necessarily flat land, though for various reason they typically are.

Savannah/savanna is the name for a woodland that has a continuous grass layer. Many woodlands and forests have some grass in the ground layer but savanna is distinguished by a complete grass covering that permits regular low intensity fires. It is in no way accurate to say that savannas have few trees. Tree densities in savannas are often higher than in forests. You can see an example of a ‘typical’ savanna here. The difference is that savanna trees tend to be much smaller and thus produce a much more incomplete canopy cover.

Veldt is a generic Southern African word borrowed from the Flemish word for field. These days it refers to grazing land. That means it may apply to savanna, grassland or to cleared forest land. Natural veldt is mostly savanna but there are some significant areas of grassland.

Meadow is a very European word for utilised grassland. Meadow can be natural or it can be created through clearing of forest. The word meadow tends to refer to flat land these days because the remaining ‘meadows’ are often hayfields, which are easier to bale mechanically if they are flat. However traditionally meadows were restricted to land less suitable for cropping, and as a result most meadows were on undulating land or hillsides.

OK…I think they are mostly the same thing. Heath and Moor refer to places in England and Scotland. Steppe, I think, refers to Central Eurasia. Prairie is the word ascribed to this particular landform in the United States. Savannah and Veldt, Sub-Saharan Africa.

Meadow, I believe, is different from all of them because it refers to a smaller area.

Boy, does this sound idiotic and amateurish compared to what slipped in before me!

Blake done good, no doubt about it, but you do actually have a point Argent Towers part of the reason for the multiplicity of modern terms is because they started as regional terms.

There are others too; maquis, which is essentially a heath, but in mediterranean regions; veldt, which is the African version of prairie; tundra, which is pretty much the same, but in a cold region where the subsiol remains frozen all year.

Damn. veldt was in there all along. :smack:

I agree entirely, this gets confusing because of regionalisms. We could include scrublands, chaparral, fynbos, swamp woods, taiga, cerrado, monsoon scrub, pampas, open forest, downs, glades and balds as a few further examples of variants on the theme.

The thing is that some of these terms have ‘real’ meanings and some are purely regionalisms.

As Argent Towers points out, prairie is just the name for what would be called steppe in Eurasia or grassveldt in Southern Africa or grass downs in Australia or pampas in south america.

Maquis, fynbos, chaparral and sandstone scrub in Europe, Africa, the US and Australia respectively are just types of Mediterranean heath.

In contrast terms like grassland, taiga, savanna, tundra, heath and moor have fairly specific meanings that aren’t regionally variable.

Of course it;s complicated even more because the terms change over time and all the systems blend seamlessly. Consider the term ‘savanna’ which started out describing closed forests with little grass and has come to be associated with grassy woodlands. And savannas are variously called savannas, savanna woodlands, savanna grasslands, grassy woodlands and open woodlands.

And something like the Utah Great Basin system can be a “Juniper savanna woodland”, a " Pinyon plateau heathland" and an “Alpine shrubby grassland” simultaneously, depending on who is discussing it and for what reason.
Don’t expect an unambigupous answer when it comes to ecosystem classification. Not only does every region have its own system but different schools within a country will apply different and overlapping categorisation systems to the same area.

Actually, I like lots of trees, and some hills and mountains, too.

I always had thought that the American and Canadian plains took the French word for ‘Meadow’, that is, ‘Prairie’, from the French Settlers intent on joining Louisiana and Quebec through the Mississippi and the Great Lakes.

Heath is blasted.

Puszta? I guess alvar (on Öland, Sweden) is a bit too regional…

Not necessarily; we have a few in Ontario as well.

Meadow in Britain means a field by water, generally a river or large pond.
There are also flood-meadows which is what happens when the river overflows, and **water-meadows **which were constructed that way.

We would be very surprised to see gorse 15 foot high.

FYI, “veld” (Which comes direct from the Dutch roots of Afrikaans, not Flemish. And there’s no terminal T in the Afrikaans form, “veldt” is considered a quaint Anglicism - very Kipling!) is also applied to the fynbos heathlands - “fynbos” is the overall local description for the protea-erica-restio assemblage, but some specific sub-types with different floral balances are characterised as “velds” - “strandveld” is coastal dune fynbos, often with a high restio component, bulbs and milkwoods, “renosterveld” is the characteristic fynbos of rich clay soils with renosterbos and daisies, “sandveld” (in the fynbos context) is the West Coast sandy soil fynbos (although it’s also used for the Kalahari semi-desert biome.)