Forests, or 'Woodlands', are collections of trees that can appear on the earth when there is sufficient nutrients, water, and sunlight. Very often they are in proximity to a mountain range.
Forests in the world of Arda were wondrous and alive with many strange forms of life; life that more or less Sentient which in some ways could at times be dangerous. Forests corrupted by the dark forces like Mirkwood were even more dangerous and perilous, and contained many savage and unnatural creatures.
Significance to the Children of Ilúvatar
Elves seemed to be the only ones fond of forests, particularly the Avarian and Nandorian elves that settled in them and stayed in their bounds. Men and Dwarves seemed to prefer living in walled cities and towns or underground, and generally cut down trees for their metallurgical work, usually in moderation. A few exceptions include the early Fallohides living in the forested areas near the Misty Mountains and the Drúedain living in the forest of the same name. Orcs and other evil creatures generally hated forests and usually hewed them down without pity nor respect to fuel their warmongering.
Peoples living in forested realms include:
- The early Elves of Cuiviénen
- The Sindar of Doriath
- Eöl of Nan Elmoth
- The Laiquendi of the Ossiriand
- Elves of Greenwood the Great under Oropher and then Mirkwood under his son Thranduil
- Woodmen near Mirkwood
- Elves of Lothlórien and East Lothlórien
Ancient and First Age
Forests and woods as with all growing things originated with Yavanna who planted their first seeds and were under her direct care, until the evil of Melkor ruined and destroyed much of them long before the Awakening of the Elves. During the Years of the Trees when the Valar removed to Aman, the first real and dense forests arose and spread throughout Middle-earth in parts of the Beleriand, in Eriador where a vast forest reigned for many thousands of years, and some in the land of Rhovanion where Greenwood stood. The vast lands of the south of Middle-earth and much of the Dark Land where very few people lived also had many dense forested areas. All forests in the Beleriand perished with its destruction at the end of the First Age.
The vast primordial forests in Eriador stood until the middle of this age when the Númenóreans began cutting them down to built their fleets and fuel their desire for empire and dominion. Then when Sauron declared war in SA 1693 much of the forested area in Eriador was burned to the ground or extensively damaged.
By the Third Age all that remained of the vast forests of Eriador were Fangorn forest and the Old Forest both of which were guarded by the Ents and Tom Bombadil. When Sauron reestablished himself in TA 1050 and moved to Dol Guldur, Greenwood became evil and perilous and was unsafe to enter save in secret.
Fourth Age and beyond
With the defeat of Sauron in the War of the Ring and the clearing of Dol Guldur, Mirkwood was freed from evil and Men and Elves worked to restore it to its former beauty. Perhaps the many forested areas survived the dominion of men in the later ages but it is not known.