Rainforest Plants: Types & Adaptations

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  • 0:04 What Is the Rainforest?
  • 0:40 Carnivorous Plants
  • 1:10 Epiphytes
  • 2:07 Corpse Flowers
  • 3:20 Aquatic Plants
  • 4:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb
The rainforest isn't your average garden. Check out this lesson to learn about giant flowers, flesh eating plants, and flowers that put out a scent of rotting flesh. Here, we'll learn about the unique adaptations that plants use to survive in the tropical rainforest.

What Is the Rainforest?

There's no place on Earth with more unique plants and animals than the tropical rainforest. This hot, humid biome gets over 200 inches of rain a year, creating the perfect conditions for biodiversity. Plants here aren't part of your typical forest. Brightly colored flowers, strangling trees, flesh eating flowers, and plants so large they might seem prehistoric cover the forest. Every plant has evolved unique adaptations, or physical features that help it survive in this dense jungle. During this lesson, we'll look at a sampling of some of the most unique plants in the tropical rainforest and their adaptations.

Carnivorous Plants

Although we normally think of insects eating plants, these plants have turned the table. Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants that trap insects in a sweet-smelling liquid that contains digestive juices within a pitcher. The insects are digested in the pitcher, and the plant can then absorb their nutrients. In the tropical rainforests of Borneo, Nepenthes species are prevalent. The soils here are nutrient poor, and so the pitcher plants have evolved a carnivorous lifestyle to get the nutrients they need to grow from insects.

The fanged pitcher plant is native to Borneo
fanged pitcher plant


Instead of consuming insects, some plants take advantage of the hard work of other trees to survive. The strangler fig is an epiphyte, which is a plant that grows on another tree. The strangler fig encases the tree, growing down into the soil with it, eventually encasing the tree's roots entirely. Over time, the process will kill the host tree, leaving a skeleton of the strangler fig and a hollow center where the tree once was. Although this process might seem damaging to the forest, the hollow areas made by the strangler fig become important homes for animals of the rainforest.

A strangler fig grows around a host tree
strangler fig

The rainforest is host to thousands of orchid species. Many of these delicate flowers are endangered due to poaching and habitat destruction. Some orchid species are epiphytes, growing on trees instead of soil. One adaptation that helps with this lifestyle is their root structure. Orchid roots are covered in a spongy coating called the velamen. The covering helps them absorb water from the air instead of traditionally through roots in the soil.

Corpse Flowers

Picture getting a fresh-cut bunch of flowers. The beautiful scent of sunflowers, roses, and lilies fills your nose. However, not all flowers smell so nice. The Rafflesia flower is also known as the ''corpse flower'', and it's known as that for good reason. These giant flowers have the lovely adaptation of smelling like rotting flesh to attract flies for pollination. The flies come near the flower, thinking it's a decaying corpse. They inadvertently take away pollen as they come and go, helping the flower reproduce. The rafflesia flower has also evolved adaptations of reducing stems and leaves. It's a gigantic flower, measuring up to 40 inches across and weighing around 20 pounds.

The Rafflesia isn't the only smelly flower in the rainforest. The titan arum, growing in Sumatra, is one of the largest compound flowers, growing over 10 feet in some cases. The giant flower is made of two parts, a petal-like structure called a spathe, and the spiky flower structure, the spadix. This rotten smelling flower only blooms a few times in its lifetime. The putrid smell attracts beetles, much like the rafflesia flower. The beetles become trapped in the spathe, unable to escape until the petals are released days later. The beetles then leave, covered in pollen to spread to other flowers.

A titan arum grown in a conservatory
Titan arum

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