Threshold Review: Orbx TerraFlora for X-Plane

January 4, 2020

Many people like to associate X-Plane with VFR flying. An integral part of low altitude flying and photoreal scenery is trees. According to Botanical Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), there are about 60,000 different of tree species worldwide. With such a diverse global population, it’s important that at least some trees are realistically recreated in flight simulation. TerraFlora XP does this job, and has a very influential effect on the appearance of the simulator. 

Installation

Installation of TerraFlora is done through the recently released Orbx Central application. Just like any other Orbx product, it will appear in your product inventory, all you need to do is click install. The process was seamless, and it took under 15 seconds for me to download and install TerraFlora. 

General Usage

Upon first loading into X-Plane with TerraFlora, I decided to load up in the newly updated Magknight 787 in one of the most tree-populated areas I could think of. I got onto final approach into Ketchikan (PAKT), Southern Alaska. 

The difference from X-Plane’s default forestry was already quite noticeable, with the trees appearing much greener and packed into a closer, more realistic looking fashion than my previously installed trees (HD Forests, comparisons are included below). 

The trees also appeared like they actually ‘belonged’ in the Northwest region, which was a very pleasant surprise. Upon closer inspection, I was also able to find multiple different tree types in close proximity to each other, which is a welcome feature.

Next up, a quick jaunt in San Francisco (KSFO), California, where I also found the trees to appear locally placed. The colors were much lighter green than in Ketchikan (as they are in real life), and the trees were also various shapes and sizes. The diversity of vegetation that was put in the San Francisco area was impressive. 

Performance differences appeared to also be negligible (details later on). 

Loading up into Los Angeles (KLAX), things got hairy and my computer caught ablaze due to the massive number of objects it had to load in, as is standard in the packed Los Angeles area. 

But TerraFlora was there and it looked the part, with trees that looked very native to Southern California (even more so than HD Forests). The variation of trees in such a small space was also a pleasant surprise. Some of them looked brown and dry while others appeared in varying shades of green. Unfortunately, a small amount of these particular trees were 2D, so while they looked great from the side, they look rather weird at any other angle than directly facing.

Finally, I loaded up in Oslo, Norway (ENGM) to see what TerraFlora had to offer across the pond. Now I’m no expert on trees, but when I compared the results of TerraFlora in Norway to the available tree types in Norway from Google, they were pretty close. Spruce trees are very common in Norway, which I found an absolute abundance of on my short excursion in the IXEG 737. 

You’ll notice that the tree types change near the town in the background, which I was unfortunately unable to identify. I do quite like the diversity of vegetation that TerraFlora puts into X-Plane, and it’s definitely a step up over other options.

I also got a bit tired of being high in the sky, so I dipped the nose down to observe the Orbx trees in their full glory. Perhaps I got a little too close, but it was worth it in the end since I saw all the small details that the trees had. At both low and high altitudes, TerraFlora holds up well. 

Comparing TerraFlora to other options

Around two years ago, MisterX6 released his freeware HD Forests pack for the community to enjoy. While this was a significant improvement over the default X-Plane trees (and has racked up an astonishing almost 50,000 downloads), it lacks the diversity of vegetation, as well as the region based tree placement that TerraFlora XP has. I’ve found that HD Forests appears to fit best with relatively dry terrain (such as Southern California), as its colors appear to have warm tones. In places like Juneau where the trees have colder tones, darker colors, and are taller, HD Forests looks quite out of place, while TerraFlora thrives. Take a look at this comparison image between HD Forests and TerraFlora. 

Take notice of how TerraFlora densely populates the terrain while HD Forests is much more sparsely spread. Also observe near the shoreline how the vegetation type changes with  TerraFlora and and looks very populous versus HD Forests. Overall, I was really impressed by the difference between Terra Flora and HD Forests, with Orbx’s flagship trees addon taking the cake.

Here are a few more comparisons between TerraFlora and HD Forests:

Note: I’ve selected the areas I found densest with trees to more easily show the differences between TerraFlora and HD Forests, particularly in density and color. However, there are still plenty of differences between the two in other places.

Performance

Performance with TerraFlora had a negligible difference in frame rate for me. My current PC is on the low end of performance, so my framerates are never great. But the main thing that should be noted is that performance differences between other tree options (such as default or HD Forests) is non-existent, at least in my case. 

Drawbacks

With every product there are drawbacks, though I’m glad to say Terra Flora has kept these very minimal. My main complaint unfortunately lies in the hands of Laminar. When looking directly into the sun with trees in view, they appear to have some very strange form of backlighting which brightens them and makes them glow against the ground.

(Image courtesy of Sethos, X-Plane.org)

I tried multiple different freeware  tree packs to no avail at fixing this problem. A quick Google search revealed that the issue had been present since X-Plane 9, which I found extremely disappointing. However, Orbx isn’t at fault for this so maybe Laminar will pick up on this issue and fix it in the future. 

I also wish the density of TerraFlora’s trees was even greater, or had an adjustable slider (specifically for the trees) available for whatever the user may want it to be. While TerraFlora does vastly increase tree density in sim, it still can’t fully achieve the appearance of a dense forest. This could be a limitation on my computer’s part, although it should be noted I had my object density on high. 

I also was somewhat disappointed by those fully 2D trees I had encountered at LAX, as they actually looked really good, but just completely lacked depth at most angles. It’s not a big deal (as most of the trees in TerraFlora aren’t fully 2D), and I’m sure this is a somewhat easy fix. But I hope this does get addressed soon, as a place like LAX will get a lot of traffic and I’m sure that won’t go unnoticed. 

Conclusion

TerraFlora is a great fit for someone who wants to improve another aspect of their simulator, or flies in an area where trees are a must, such as the upper Northern Hemisphere. I am thoroughly impressed by the region based tree placement, which adds a great element of realism to your flying experience. 

The much improved tree density versus the default version or HD Forests also makes flying around forested areas much more realistic. For the price of $17.34 USD, you get a much different, much more realistic flying experience. So I’d say TerraFlora by Orbx is worth the price tag. 

I’d like to thank Orbx for providing this copy for review. You can purchase TerraFlora for X-Plane 11 for $24.95 AUD (approx. US$17.34 | €15.54 | £13.25) from the developer’s website here.

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