Types of Rainforest Plants
Over two-thirds of Earth’s plant species grow in the rainforests. Rainforest plants must thrive in warm, humid environments. Competition is fierce at the ground level for food and light. This has led to some plants evolving to live off of host plants, while other plants have adapted by using “air roots” to obtain nourishment from the air. Various plant species thrive in the rainforest environment.
Bromeliads are members of the pineapple family (Bromeliaceae) that grow in South American and Central American rainforests. The bromeliads have waxy, thick leaves with bowls in the center for catching rainwater. These plants hold enough water to provide homes for frogs, snails, beetles and salamanders. Some bromeliads have long flower stalks, while others have stalks so short that the flowers nestle into the leaves. Most bromeliads only bloom one time.
Strangler figs (Ficus), also called banyan trees, are tall canopy trees that reach up to 148 feet high. These plants start life high in the trees and then send their long, thin roots down to the ground. The roots grow quickly, fusing together and suffocating the host tree. When the host tree dies, the strangler fig has a large, hollow core.
Bengal bamboo (Bambusa tulda), also called Calcutta cane and spineless Indian bamboo, grows in Southeast Asian rainforests. This bamboo ranges from 40 to 80 feet in height with about a 3-inch diameter. This perennial plant is fast growing, reaching maturity in only two to three months. Bengal bamboo flowers only once and then die after blooming. This bamboo can live for 25 to 40 years. Bengal bamboo helps the rainforest environment by absorbing water from heavy rains, reducing soil erosion and sheltering animals.
Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea) shrubs, trees and vines grow in the Amazon rainforest of South America. All bougainvillea plants have dark green, heart-shaped leaves with little drip tips so they don’t get weighed down with rainwater. Tubular flowers bloom in yellow, white, orange, red and pink tones. Although the root systems are fragile, the vines spread quickly.
Durian trees (Durio zibethinus), also called civet fruit trees, grow in the lowland rainforests of Southeast Asia. These primitive trees bear large, odoriferous fruit on the main branches and trunks. Mature trees reach 130 feet tall and can live up to 150 years. These sub-canopy trees have rough, dark brown barks that peel off in irregular patterns to keep parasitic plants from growing on them. The flowers emit a strong odor that attracts the dawn bat, which is its main pollinator. Mature durian fruit is about 1 foot long, weighs around 18 pounds and is covered with spines. The unpleasant smelling fruit has a rich, sweet flavor.
The Tualang tree (Koompassia excelsa), also called the honey bee tree, is a Southeast Asian rainforest tree characterized by the numerous honeycombs hanging from the horizontal branches. Asian rock bees prefer to build their hives in these tall trees, and the combs can be as large as 6 feet across. One tree can house more than100 beehives. This tree towers over the rainforest canopy, growing up to 250 feet tall. Tualang trees have silvery, smooth bark with slippery surfaces that discourage bears from climbing them to reach the honey.