In the previous article we looked at plants in the tropical rainforest. On this page, we provide a tropical rainforest plants list, with pictures and information on individual plant species.
This article is part of our Rainforest Series.
You can download rainforest worksheets here: Rainforest Worksheets.
Tropical Rainforest Plants Information
The world’s tropical rainforests are home to an incredible number of plant species. The Amazon Rainforest alone contains overs 40,000 plant species!
The hot, humid climate in the world’s tropical regions provide ideal conditions for plant life.
However, there is a lot of competition for sunlight and nutrients. Plants have to adapt to find their place in the ecosystem.
Some plants grow faster, some have bigger leaves, and others evolve better defences against predators.
As we’ll find, some plants have co-evolved with particular animals so that without one, the other would not be able to survive.
In this list of tropical rainforest plants, some of our chosen species are very big, some are very beautiful … and some are very dangerous … but only if you’re an insect!
Let’s learn about some amazing rainforest plants.
Tropical Rainforest Plants List
Epiphytes are plants that live on other plants. They don’t have roots in the ground, and have evolved various strategies for obtaining water and nutrients. Many different epiphyte species, that together weigh several tonnes, can be found growing on a single tree. Epiphytes even grow on other epiphytes!
Many of the plants in this tropical rainforest plants list are epiphytes.
The most common epiphytes are bromeliads. Bromeliads are flowering plants whose long leaves are arranged in a rosette. They attach themselves to the host tree by wrapping their roots around its branches. Their leaves channel water into a central ‘tank’.
A bromeliad’s tank is a habitat in itself. The water is used not only by the plant, but also by many rainforest animals. Birds and mammals drink from the tank. Tadpoles grow there, and insects lay their eggs in the pond.
There are many types of rainforest orchid, and we’ll look at some individual species below. Orchids in the rainforest are often epiphytes. Some have specially adapted roots that enable them to capture water and nutrients from the air. Other orchids have roots that spread out over the branch of the host tree, capturing water without burying into the ground.
Açai Palm (Euterpe precatoria)
The açai is thought to be the most common tree in the Amazon Rainforest. Despite this, it still makes up only 1% (5 billion) of the 390 billion trees in the region. Its fruit are edible.
Carnauba Palm (Copernicia prunifera)
This Brazilian palm tree is also known as the ‘tree of life’ because it has so many uses. Its fruit are eaten, and its wood used in building. It is most well-known as the source of ‘carnauba wax’, which comes from the tree’s leaves.
Carnauba wax is used in car polishes, lipstick, soap, and in many other products. It is even rubbed on surfboards to help them slip through the water faster!
There are over 600 species of rattan palm. They grow in African, Asian and Australasian rainforests. Rattans are vines; long plants which are unable to support themselves. Instead, they wrap themselves around other trees. Hooked spines on their stems allow them to climb up the other trees towards the sunlight. Rattans are harvested and used in furniture construction.
Walking Palm (Socratea exorrhiza)
Walking palms grow in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. They have stilt roots which project out of the trunk above the ground (see our Plants In The Tropical Rainforest article to find out more about stilt roots). It was once thought that these roots enabled the trees to ‘walk’ to a new position if it was knocked over by another tree. Scientists now think that the roots simply improve the tree’s stability.
Amazon water lily (Victoria amazonica)
The Amazon water lily is an aquatic plant that grows in the lakes and rivers of South American rainforests. Its huge leaves can be up to 3 metres (9.8 ft.) in diameter. There are rows of sharp spines on the undersides of the leaves. These deter rainforest animals such as manatees from eating them.
Rubber Tree (Hevea brasiliensis)
The rubber tree, which was first found in the Amazon Rainforest, is now also grown in tropical areas in Asia and Africa. The tree is harvested for latex, a milky fluid found in vessels in the tree’s bark. These vessels are opened and the latex which runs out is collected in buckets. This is known as ‘rubber tapping’.
Latex is used to make natural rubber. Natural rubber has many uses, including car tyres, hoses, pulley belts and clothing.
There are over 1.9 million rubber trees growing in the Amazon Rainforest.
A colourful entry to the tropical rainforest plants list, Bougainvilleas are native to South America. They are grown as ornamental plants in other areas. Bougainvilleas are well-known for their beautiful flower-like leaves, which grow around the actual flower. These thorny plants grow as vines and shrubs.
Indian Timber Bamboo (Bambusa Tulda)
Bamboo is the largest member of the grass family. Some species of bamboo can grow 90 cm (3 ft.) in one day! Indian Timber Bamboo is a particularly useful species of bamboo. As its name suggests, it is used to make furniture. It is also used to make paper and musical instruments. It grows in South Asian rainforests.
The vanilla orchid was first used as a flavouring by the Aztecs. Today, the word ‘vanilla’ is usually used to describe a flavour, rather than the plant from which it comes. Vanilla orchids grow like vines, climbing up other trees.
Wild vanilla orchids are pollinated by hummingbirds and melipona bees. They grow in Central and South America.
Bucket orchids, or Coryanthes, require a particular type of bee – called Orchid Bees – for pollination. In order to get the bee’s help, the plant offers the male insects a specially scented substance. This substance is used by the male bees to attract female bees.
The male bee is attracted by the flower’s scent. While it tries to get to the sweet-smelling, female-attracting liquid, it will sometimes fall into the flower’s ‘bucket’; a special chamber inside the body of the flower.
The only way out for the bee is through a part of the flower that attaches pollen to its body. The bee makes its escape, and will now pollinate other bucket orchids that it visits.
The Bucket Orchid and the Bucket Bee have coevolved, and each is dependent on the other to reproduce.
Silky Oak (Grevillea robusta)
The silky oak is a large tree that grows in Australian rainforests. It is not closely related to true oak trees. Its timber is resistant to rot, and is used in carpentry and joinery.
Tualang (Koompassia Excelsa)
Tualang trees are found in the rainforests of Southeast Asia, in countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. They are some of the tallest rainforest trees. They can grow over 80 m (262 ft.) tall. Tualangs have very smooth bark, making them difficult for animals to climb. This is beneficial to the giant honey bees that make their nests high in the tree’s branches.
Tualang trees have buttress roots, which make them more stable and also spread their roots out over the rainforest floor.
Many epiphytes avoid harming the plant on which they grow. This isn’t the case with strangler figs, which eventually kill the host plant.
Strangler figs begin life in the branches of other trees. As strangler figs grow, their roots descend to the forest floor. Their stems wrap around the host tree, until they form a lattice. The fig is now able to capture more sunlight and draw up more nutrients that the tree in which it grows. The host tree eventually dies.
The strangler fig lattice, which is often formed by more than one fig, is by then strong enough to support its own weight. It remains standing even when the host tree has rotted away.
The strangler fig is an extremely important plant in the rainforest ecosystem. Its fruit is food for many rainforest animals.
Corpse Flower (Rafflesia arnoldii)
Rafflesia arnoldii flowers can reach 1 m (3 ft.) in diameter. They produce a smell like rotting flesh, which is how they got the name ‘Corpse Flower’. This scent attracts the flies which will pollinate the flower.
No tropical rainforest plants list would be complete without a carnivorous plant! Pitcher plants have evolved to prey on insects. They grow in areas where the soil is low in nutrients.
There are many different types of pitcher plant, but all work in the same way. They lure insects with nectar or tempting scents. The insects then slip down into the plant’s tube. Hairs in the sides of the tube prevent the insect from escaping.
The insect eventually drowns in a pool of liquid at the bottom of the tube. The plant draws nutrients from the insect’s body. Some of the most well-known pitcher plants are those of the Nepenthes genus.
Heliconias are flowering plants that grown in the tropical rainforests of the Americas. They grow on the forest floor, and their brightly-coloured flowers attract hummingbirds, which pollinate the plant.
Heliconias are popular all over the world as ornamental plants. They are also known as ‘lobster claws’ due to the shape of the flowers.
Kapok (Ceiba pentandra)
Kapok trees are tall rainforest trees whose highest branches form part of the emergent layer. Kapoks have buttress roots. Kapok trees are found in the tropical rainforests of South America, Asia and Africa.
Durian (Genus: Durio)
Durian trees grow in Southeast Asia. Their fruit is famous for being very strong-smelling. Some people like the smell, but others find it repulsive! Despite this, the fruit is a popular food.
Mahogany (Genus: Swietenia)
Trees of the genus Swietenia are harvested for their wood, which is called mahogany. This red-brown wood is valued for its beauty and colour. Swietenia trees are native to the rainforests of the Americas.
Tropical Rainforest Plants List Conclusion
This tropical rainforest plants list includes flowers with special adaptations, trees with unusual root structures, and many plants that are used by man either for food or to make other goods and products.
Although no list of this type can hope to include all of the plants in the rainforest, we hope that we’ve provided you with an idea of the lives and uses of many varied plants found in tropical regions.
You can learn more about tropical rainforest plants here: Plants of the tropical rainforest.
Want to discover more? Visit our main rainforest facts page, where you can find out amazing facts about the world’s rainforests.