Plants That Grow in Tropical Forests

Tropical forests are located near the equator, where they receive bright, intense sunlight and warm temperatures all year round. The only frost that occurs is in the higher elevations. There is usually ample water throughout the year or a wet and dry season instead of summer and winter like in northern and southern climates. These are some of the most diverse regions in the world, with highly specialized plants, animals and insects that aren't found anywhere else.

Strangler Fig

When a strangler fig seed is deposited in the high branches of a jungle tree by a bird or small mammal, it sprouts and begins the slow death of its host. The roots of the strangler fig cling to the trunk of the host tree and slowly grow down to the forest floor. When they reach the ground, they take root and the fig starts to rapidly grow. The roots start to enlarge and choke out the host tree by preventing it from expanding outward. The leaf canopy of the fig also blocks the light from the host. Eventually, the host dies and the trunk rots away becoming compost for the fig. The fig is able to stand on its own because of the thickened mass of roots that developed around the trunk of the host. Strangler figs are common in tropical climates. There are many different species but the common strangler fig, Ficus citrifolia, is the most popular.


The breadfruit is a large green fruit the size of a person's head that has thin bumpy rind. It grows on the breadfruit tree (scientific name Artocarpus altilis) all across the tropics where it is an important food. The tree reaches about 85 feet tall and has large leathery green lobed leaves that are 1 to 3 feet long. The tree is thought to be native to the South Pacific and Southeast Asia and was spread around the islands includingHawaii by ancient Polynesians. It was then imported to the Caribbean and Africa by Spanish explorers.

Split-Leaf Philodendron

The split-leaf philodendron is native to the tropical forests of Mexico south to Panama. When young, it has the habit of growing towards the darkest place rather than the brightest. When it reaches a tree trunk or other potential support it then starts to grow straight up towards the light. Young leaves do not have the typical slits. These are only produced on plants that have grown high enough into the canopy to where there is more light. A mature leaf can reach 18 inches wide. It produces an edible fruit that tastes similar to a pineapple, banana and mango mix. The unripe fruit and all other parts of the plant are toxic.

Keywords: strangler fig, breadfruit, split-leaf philodendron

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.