Edible Tropical Forest Plants

Tropical rain forests support a rich diversity of plants found nowhere else in the world. Many of the plants native to these wet, warm and humid areas produce abundant edible parts that humans have learned to cultivate--spreading them around the world in the midlatitudes. Some of the most popular have become staple foods, as well as an important export, for many people living in tropical areas.


Mango trees (scientific name Mangifera indica) originated somewhere in Southeast Asia or eastern India. They been spread around the world and are widely cultivated in all tropical regions. Often they are grown as landscape trees in yards, similar to apples in temperate climates. The trees grow to 100 feet tall and can develop a canopy spread over 125 feet wide. They produce large amounts of fruit over their lifetime, which can be from 100 to 300 years. (Other types of fruit trees are typically only productive for a couple decades.) Mangoes prefer wet, warm and humid climates similar to a tropical rain forest. During blooming and fruit growth, they produce better in areas with a dry season (this helps limit fungus and rot).


Banana trees are actually large rain-forest herbs of the genus Musa and not really trees with woody stems. The common yellow banana found in American grocery stores is the cavendish variety, chosen by the banana industry for its overall quality and durability when being shipped. Many other types exist, including plantains, which are most often used in cooking. Other sweet and dwarf varieties that are edible exist, but do not ship well and are not widely available commercially. In addition to the fruit, many cultures use banana leaves as a wrapping during the cooking process. Bananas grow as clumps developing multiple stems. When the dominate stem fruits and ripens, it dies off and a new stem becomes dominant and starts fruiting. They can reach up to 25 feet tall, but ornamental and dwarf cultivars exist that only reach a few feet. Bananas require fertile, moist, well-drained soil and are restricted to tropical regions with high rainfall. A few ornamental varieties have been developed that can withstand brief cold snaps, but are not usually grown for their fruit.


Kola nuts are the source of the flavoring in cola soda and are native to the rain forests of tropical Africa. Kola trees (Cola nitida and C. acuminata) can reach up to 80 feet tall, but usually remain half that size. Their oval-shaped leaves are up to a foot long. The nuts grow in star-shaped clusters and are individually oval-shaped up to 5 inches long. They have a naturally bitter taste until processed and contain caffeine. Kola trees need warm, humid environments in tropical locations with a defined wet and dry season. The trees can be cultivated in drier areas if there is ample irrigation.

Keywords: mango tree, tropical banana, kola nut

About this Author

Brian Albert has been in the publishing industry since 1999. He is an expert in horticulture, with a focus on aquatics and tropical plants like orchids. He has successfully run an aquatic plant business for the last five years. Albert's writing experience includes the Greater Portland Aquarium Society newsletter and politics coverage for a variety of online journals.