Tropical rainforests are one of the most abundant ecosystems for plant life and contain over 200,000 species.
The humid and warm environment provides the nourishment for plant life to grow and is the reason why tropical rainforests are home to over two-thirds of all plant species found on Planet Earth.
All of these plant species work in unison to form a well-oiled nature machine. This machine provides food for animals and converts carbon dioxide into oxygen. Rainforests are like the earth’s lungs and play just as important a role in regulating global temperatures as they do feeding life within the animal kingdom.
But as different plant species grow to different heights and sizes, they block out others for their own needs. This creates a rivalry between plants and causes evolution to differ between species.
Some species have evolved to grow on others. And these parasite-like species do not even have roots that grow into the gerund. Their roots have developed to a point where they can absorb what the plant needs from the air.
Other species of tropical rainforest plants wrap themselves around the branches of larger ones. And like an anaconda, they strangle their hosts in the fight to stay alive.
Aside from their nature-serving purpose and captivating appearances, tropical rainforest plants also benefit humans in other ways.
We have discovered their healing potential. And we now produce over a quarter of medicines using plant species only found in tropical rainforest environments.
These plants help fight different strains of cancer as well as a host of other serious health conditions which threaten human lives.
Tropical Rainforest Plants
Cacao is actually a tree rather than a plant. But it plays such an important role in a product which humans absolutely love.
The brown, velvety smooth and creamy sweet that we all know as chocolate has one key ingredient that comes from the tropical rainforest. And that is cacao.
The cacao tree is small, between 4 to 8 meters, has relatively thick branches, and light green leaves. Flowers grow in clusters either on the trunk or older branches, which is called a cauliflory.
Also from the branches grows pod-shaped fruit which tends to hang vertically. And inside these grow the small coffee-like cacao beans.
Often considered a superfood, cacao has many dietary benefits. It is high in naturally occurring sugars and has 40 times the antioxidants of blueberries. Along with this, it is also the highest plant-based source of iron.
The passion flower is also known as the Passiflora. This genus of tropical rainforest plants has over 55o species within it, all of which flower.
Passion flowers are usually tendril-bearing vibes. Although, some are shrubs or trees. They can be herbaceous, which means that they have no woody stems above ground. Or they can be woody, which means that woody stems do grow within their above-ground structure.
The reason for their name lies in religion. Missionaries who first encountered the flower believed its structure to resemble the crown of thorns that Jesus Christ wore during his crucifixion. Hence the name passion.
The plant is pollinated by several different animals. and these include birds and insects as well as bats.
The monkey brush is a vine on the genus Combretum and is found in South America.
It is an extremely unique looking plant. And its flowers almost resemble orange corn on the cobs with spiky hairs growing out of them. These hairs are actually called stamens and are what give it the second part of its name – brush.
The monkey brush vine grows alone without feeding off of other plants, or as a parasite. When they bloom, the bright orange and yellow colors come out on display, but not until the buds slowly burst open.
The plant’s eye-catching appearance attracts birds, particularly hummingbirds. And the hummingbirds and monkey brush have a nice deal. The birds get a tasty drink of nectar, and in return, the plants are pollinated.
Belonging to the monotypic family of Heliconiaceae, Heliconia is a flowering plant with an appearance often likened to a lobster’s claw. They are native to rainforests and are found in those of South as well as Central America. However, there are some which are native to the western Pacific, as well as Maluku.
Heliconia’s appearance is beautiful, to say the least. It is tall, usually between 0.5 to 4.5m, and the leaves measure between 15 to 300cm.
And the distinct shape and color owe a lot to its modified leaves, called bracts. The waxy bracts not only give it structure, but their bright pigment attracts [pollinators.
Again, the main pollinator is the hummingbird. And the deal here is the same. The hummingbird gets sugary nectar, the plant reproduces.
Orchids are not just one plant, but a family of over 25,000 different types. And when compared to the animal kingdom, there is over four times the number of orchids than there are mammals and birds.
Bulbophyllum is one of the better-known types of orchids, and their genetics mainly come from epiphytic and lithophytic orchids of the family Orchidaceae.
Bulbophyllum is actually the biggest subgroup of orchids, and one of the largest groups of flowering plants in the animal kingdom, with over 2,000 different species.
Orchids of the Bulbophyllum genus are vascular herbs with fibrous roots. And these slither over surfaces on which they are growing.
The flowers can be large in size, and many of them have decaying scents. And they evolved this way to attract fly pollinators.
Unfortunately, orchids are under threat. There are species that are disappearing, and even some that are threatened with extinction. This is mainly due to human activity. Illegal deforestation destroys habitats. And illegal flower trades see many of the flowers picked for sale every year.
Amazon Water Lily
The Amazon water lily is often called by its more humanoid name Victoria amazonica, and is the largest of the water lily family.
Recognized as the national flower of Guyana, the plant’s native regions are Guyana, as well as tropical South America.
The flat disk-shaped lily pads are up to 8ft in width and give off a sweet fruit-like fragrance. Its leaves are also rounded, except these are upturned. The supporting structure gives the plant its strength and is a ribbed underside that is attached to the stalk. The stalk itself is submerged underwater, which can often hide its huge length. They grow up to around 26ft and dig themselves into the bed of rivers and lakes.
A member of the family Araceae, philodendrons are a large genus of flowering plants with 489 recognized species. This genus of plants is still relatively unknown to us. And many species still do not have any descriptions to help us understand them.
When translated from ancient Greek, philodendron means ‘tree love’, or ‘love of trees’. And this is quite an accurate name, as philodendrons are commonly kept as ornamental indoor plants.
The leaves are large, spear-shaped and deep green coloured. Their weight causes them to droop downwards, and are deeply cut. The leaves also have differing appearances. And this is because philodendrons do not have a single type of leaf. They grow both adult and juvenile leaves which are of different sizes and shapes.
As majestic as they look, philodendrons can be toxic to humans. They contain calcium oxalate, and this has toxic properties when handled incorrectly or digested. This is because the oxalates form tiny needles called raphides. These raphides can cause pain and swelling when the plant is chewed or the skin is overly exposed to it.
If consumed in large amounts, the pain and swelling can in fact cause drooling and difficulty chewing and swallowing.
Also known as the corpse flower, the amorphophallus titanum, or titan arum for short is another flowering plant in the family of Araceae.
One of its unique features is that it has the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world. An inflorescence is simply a cluster of flowers that grow on a stem that itself is made up of the main branch, or more intricately, a group of branches.
It is large in size and almost looks like a thick needle coming out of a megaphone. And the plant is also known for its deathly smell. This has been given the nickname corpse flower.
The berries of the titan arum grow in a cylindrical form and look like a bunch of small spheres packed into round confinement.
Tropical Rainforest Plants
It is unbelievable that such a diverse range of life within the plant kingdom thrives in tropical rainforests.
But as human civilization continues to expand, we see more and more species of plants become threatened with extinction.
Plants are an important aspect of the biodiversity of tropical rainforests. It is an intricate system with every life form playing a role. And so if too many species disappear, eco-systems could be seriously affected.