Our surroundings are sometimes taken for granted. Even something as unique as the rainforest is forgotten. It seems a little bit of knowledge and a shove in the right direction can get people to appreciate the environment. So, why not start with the wonder that is the rainforest?
Even though rainforests only cover less than two percent of the Earth’s entire surface area, they are home to 50 percent of the plants and animals. They are also found on every continent, except Antarctica. That’s pretty amazing! Now, let’s see what they have to offer in plants. Out of 40,000 plant species, here are 10 amazing rainforest plants that will blow your mind and get you reacquainted with our planet.
You’re probably thinking “I know all there is to know about bananas; I eat them for breakfast and can make delicious banana bread.” Well, there is more to bananas then eating them. Even though they grow on trees, bananas are not trees, but giant herbs. After a year, they reach their full height of anywhere between 10 and 20 feet. The blossoms eventually bloom into a fruit, where they then ripen and are used for sustenance. Banana stems can weigh nearly 100 pounds and are about 93 percent water.
Habitation: Found in Central America, South America, Africa, Southeast Asia and non-tropical regions like the United States thanks to modern agricultural technologies.
Known for their beauty, orchids are the largest family of plants in the world. The species varies greatly in weight and size with some petals getting as long as 30 inches, and flowers growing up to 14 feet long. They also come in every color, except black. They grow on rocks, in the soil, underground and on other plants and trees, all while relying on certain insects or birds for pollination.
Habitation: Extremely adaptable and grows in most climates with the majority being found in Central America, South America and in countries along the Andes Mountains.
What would you do if you couldn’t have that cup of coffee in the morning? Ugh, that would be awful. Well you can thank the coffee plant of the rainforest for your jolt of caffeine every day. It can grow as tall as 30 feet, but is considered a bush or shrub. From the picture they look like grapes, but those are berries containing two coffee beans inside. It takes an amazing six to eight years for the plant to be in full production and coffee plants can live up to 100 years old.
Habitation: Prefers high altitudes for shade with a wet and dry season. Originated in Ethiopia and Sudan and now more than two-thirds grow in Latin America.
4. Brazil Nut Tree
Towering above all the other trees in the Amazon Rainforest, the Brazil nut tree can reach over 160 feet. Known for its production of the Brazil nut, these delectable delights are produced inside fruit the size of a baseball and can weigh up to five pounds. The exterior layer of the fruit is so hard only the agoutis, a large rodent with sharp teeth, can break it open. The tree relies on the agoutis, bees and other rainforest plants for survival. Imagine if these species disappeared!
Habitation: Located in the Amazon Rainforest of Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru.
The poinsettia is mostly seen around Christmastime in the United States. This beautiful plant actually grows in the rainforest in the form of a bush or tree. Who knew?! One would think the colorful part of the plant is the petals, but they are actually the leaves. The flowers are the small, yellow stalks in the middle of the leaves. The poinsettia comes in red, white, pink and bicolor. Also, to clear up rumors, they are not poisonous, even though some believe this is so. Thank goodness it’s not, since it’s the number-one flowering potted plant in the US!
Habitation: Native to the tropical forests in Mexico and Central America.
When we see the word “cacao” we associate it with chocolate, but it’s a little more complicated than that. The cacao tree is an evergreen, which grows a pod containing 20 to 60 reddish-brown cocoa beans. When harvested, it takes anywhere from seven to 14 pods to produce one pound of dry cocoa beans, which is turned into delicious chocolate. It’s important for cacao to be harvested sustainably, since chocolate is in very high demand.
Habitation: Grows below altitudes of 1,000 feet in an area that receives about 4 inches of rain per month, originated in the lowland rainforests of Amazon River basins and can now be found in southern Mexico.
7. Rubber Tree
Reaching as high as 130 feet, the rubber tree is recognized for its milky white sap, or commonly called latex. Yes, the rubber tree is used to make rubber. Who would have thought? Sometimes called rubberwood, the tree is tapped for latex at six-years-old and reproduces by scattering its seeds as far as 100 feet from itself.
Habitation: Located in the Amazon region of South America including Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia.
This colorful plant has 40 different species with paddle-shaped leaves that are part of the banana family. In addition to being called heliconia, it is also referred to as lobster claws or parrot flowers. The plant structure has “bracts,” which is a colorful leaf that comes in pink, orange, yellow, green, purple or red. Bracts actually hide the plant’s flowers tucked inside of them, protecting the nectar so only certain birds, like the hummingbird, can reach it. Butterflies also enjoy the sweet nectar.
Habitation: Found in the Neotropics including southern Mexico, Central and South America and the West Indies.
This strong, wind-resistant tree has an extensive root system and a famous bark that contains a white, gummy sap called chicle. The egg-shaped fruit contains a grainy yellow fruit inside that when eaten tastes like a pear. Considered the best fruit in Central America, even rainforest mammals, like howler monkeys, find the fruit delicious. The first chewing gum was even created from the sapodilla by the Mayans and Aztecs!
Habitation: Native to southern Mexico, Belize and northeastern Guatemala.
Bromeliad seems like a complex word and plant, but it’s really not. Bromeliads contain more than 2,700 species that grow on the ground, on rocks and on other plants and rocks. These beautiful plants have bright colored flowers ranging from reds to oranges to purples and to blues. One of the most common bromeliad is a sweet, wondrous fruit. What is it? The pineapple! Bromeliads are even sometimes homes for tree frogs, snails and salamanders where they’ll stay for their entire lives.
Habitation: Found in the Neotropics including southern Mexico, Central and South America and the West Indies. One species is also found in western Africa.
Some of our favorite foods and plants come from the rainforest; that’s why it’s so important to preserve the rainforest in a respectful and sustainable manner. Imagine living without bananas, chocolate and beautiful orchids and poinsettias. Now, that would be disappointing.
Want some more amazing rainforest galleries?
:: 10 Rainforest Creatures that Defy Imagination
:: 10 Celebrities Fighting to Save the Rainforests
:: 8 Rainforest Eco Resorts