Children's Tropical Forests (U.K.) Fact Sheet
There is a fantastic
variety of rain forest
plant life. A typical
10km square area
contains 1,500 kinds of
flowering plants and
750 tree species. These
plants form a system of
layers. The top layer
consists of giant
trees up to 75 metres
tall that tower over the
rest of the forest.
Canopy Trees, 20 to 30 metres tall, form the next layer. Shrubs and
young trees make up the under layer, whilst the last layer is the forest floor itself.
Ferns, herbs and seedlings that need little sunlight for growth are found in this
Small plants called epiphytes that need more sunlight attach themselves to the trunks and branches of the canopy trees. They never touch the ground, but their aerial
roots absorb water from the moist air. Vines that have roots in the ground climb trees of the top layer to obtain the sunlight they require.
Most tropical rain forest plants are exotic and very beautiful. Orchids and bromeliads for example
are found throughout the canopy and under-story. The flowering Rafflesia arnoldi which grows on
the forest floor has the largest flower in the world measuring up to 1 metre across. Unfortunately it
smells like rotting meat! However the odour attracts flies which carry out the necessary pollination.
The huge top layer trees are also quite strange. Many of
them have huge base fins known as buttresses, which
help support them in the poor soil, and prevent them
being blown over by the high winds that can
accompany the monsoon. Other trees send their roots
down from their branches to provide extra support.
Many trees have also evolved protection from leaf
eating insects and animals, as they produce disagreeable
chemicals in their leaves making them unpalatable.
Others grow spines on their trunks and branches making
it hard for animals to reach their leaves. Some have
hollows in their branches for ants to nest in, and they
return the favour by attacking those insects and vines
that can harm the tree.
Many rainforest plants are very useful. Food such as pineapple, banana, grapefruit, avocado and coconut
originated there, as did many spices like chocolate, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper, ginger and
paprika. Chicle, (chewing gum) as well as bamboo and balsa wood also come from the rainforest.
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