The rainforests of the world are home to many fascinating and unique plants. These plants can be common or rare within their environment, but they are all found within the tropical rainforests.
“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.” — John Muir
Read on to learn about some of the most interesting tropical plants in the world.
Tropical Rainforest Plants:
Heliconia flowers ( also called Lobster-Claws) are flowers found within the Amazonian rainforest, and are known for their bright coloration. While heliconias can vary in size and shape, heliconia plants are usually long, around 4.5 meters (15 feet) in length with large leaves that can potentially grow anywhere from 15–300 cm (6 in-10 ft) . Humid conditions are required for heliconia to grow and heliconia are used by hummingbirds for both food and shelter. In return, hummingbirds pollinate the plants.
Orchids are known for their striking appearance and their incredible variety. There are more than 30,000 known species of orchids in the world, and they are capable of growing in many different climates. Orchids rely on birds and insects for pollination, much like other flowers. In the Amazon rainforest, 25,000 species of orchid are known and many of these species are threatened or endangered by climate change or deforestation. Some unique orchid species can grow to be several feet tall and larger across than a human hand.
Mangrove trees are small trees or shrubs that grow within brackish water along coastal areas in the tropics or subtropics. Mangrove forests around the world are thought to cover over 140,000 square kilometers and cross into 118 different countries. While it may seem that mangrove trees are prolific throughout the world and in no danger of declining, it is suspected that around 35% of mangrove forests have been destroyed by development projects and shrimp farming. Other estimates speculate that around one-fifth of the world’s mangrove ecosystems have disappeared since 1980.
“Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.” — E. O. Wilson
Rafflesia flowers are considered to be one of the most endangered, are therefore rarest, flowers in the world. Rafflesia flowers are capable of growing up to one meter across, and the flower is said to have a pattern on its petals that resembles a mushroom. Rafflesia can be found throughout Southeast Asia and Indonesia. One of the most interesting things about the flower is that it is said to smell like rotting meat, which leads to the term “corpse flower” being applied to the flower.
Ceiba pentandra, commonly called the Kapok Tree, is a tree found at tropical latitudes and native to regions of Central America, Mexico, and South America. Kapok trees can grow quite high, as high as 73 meters or 240 ft tall. One of the tree’s most distinguishing features is that the trunk of the tree is often covered in large thorns. Another notable aspect of the tree is that the fibers of the kapok tree are very light yet buoyant and water-resistant, which has made it a popular item for use in pillows, mattresses, jackets, etc.
Bromeliads refer to around 3500 species of flowering plants and 2700 species that exist within the Amazon rain-forest. The foliage of bromeliads can take on various shapes and textures, from spiky to soft and from thin to flat and broad. It is suspected that almost a third of bromeliads are endangered. Pineapples are some of the best-known bromeliads. Most bromeliads are found in the Americas, in regions like Chile, the cloud forests of South America and Central America, the Andes, and the Sechura Desert in Peru.
Cacao plants, or cacao trees, are small trees native to the tropical areas of the Americas. The seed of the cacao plant are called cacao beans and they are the primary ingredient in chocolate and other confections. The cocoa beans are dried and fully fermented to be primed for the creation of chocolate. Cacao allegedly possesses more calcium than milk. Cacao is one of the most commonly cultivated plants around the world, with there being approximately 10,200,000 hectares of cultivated cocoa beans around the world in 2016.
Giant Water Lilies
Victoria amazonica is a species of flowering plant and the leaves of this plant are the giant green floating discs that are found in the Amazon river basin. The flowers of the plant are white when they first open and turn pink on their second night. The leaves of the species can be rather large, up to 3 meters (10 feet) across. The species gets its name from being presented to, and then named after, Queen Victoria.
Passion Fruit Flowers
Passion fruit flowers are found in South America, in parts of Northern Argentine, southern Brazil, and Paraguay. The fruit is cultivated for commercial reasons, and it produces a sweet fruit popular in many juices. The fruits of the plant are actually types of berries and they can be either purple or yellow when mature. The flowers of the plant have stringy tendrils coming off of them, and they are usually purple or red in coloration.
Monkey Brush Vine
The species known as combretum rotundifolium, colloquially referred to as the monkey brush vine is found throughout South America. The vines of the plant aren’t especially interesting when not in bloom, but when in bloom they take on a striking appearance, being bright red and orange with a spiky look. Hummingbirds feed on the flower and iguanas often rest on the vines.
“The rainforest has an intense beauty that at times seems almost suffocating. The jungle is one twig short of impenetrable, and the greenery seems to crowd in on you with a sensation that has been described as akin to snow blindness.” — Mark Barrowcliffe
Coffea is the genus of plants that are used to make coffee. Coffee beans are the seeds of the coffea plants, and coffea are native to tropical region of Asia and Africa. There are over 120 different species within the coffea genus, and among these species, the most popular for use in coffee production are Coffea arabica (Arrabica coffee) and Coffea canephora (Robusta). While humans enjoy coffee for the boost that caffeine gives them, caffeine is actually toxic to many insects, so it acts as a defense mechanism for the plant.