Facts About Tropical Rainforest Plants

By Jinnene Foster; Updated April 25, 2017
Epiphytes live on host trees.

According to rain-tree.com, 137 plant species are lost each day due to tropical rainforest deforestation. As these plants vanish, possible opportunities to discover cures for fatal diseases may be lost as well. Rainforest plants, though threatened, do thrive today, providing as much as 80 percent of food to developed countries. It’s not too late for people to take steps to protect rainforest plant diversity.


Characteristics of tropical rainforests include massive trees, warm temperatures and in some cases, more than 1 inch of daily rain. Rainforest plants exist in most continents, including Africa, Asia, Australia, Central America and South America. The Amazon rainforest in South America is the biggest rainforest in the world. The Amazon River Basin, which contains the Amazon rainforest, is approximately the size of the United States, covering 40 percent of the landmass of South America.

Plant Types

According to the California Institute of Technology, more than two-thirds of the world’s plant varieties appear in tropical rainforests. Some common types of rainforest plants include orchids, epiphytes and strangler figs.

Orchids make up the most diverse of plant groups. In tropical environments, orchids more commonly grow on trees, though not parasitically. Flowering orchids appear in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Epiphytes, or “air plants,” as they are known, grow anywhere in tropical forests, but most commonly flourish on tree branches, trunks and leaves. Epiphytes produce far greater amounts of seeds than ground-dwelling plants, for many epiphyte seeds never find ideal spots to grow, and hence die off. Other epiphytes like orchids, lichens, mosses and bromeliads compete for space to breed on trees. Stated by rainforests.mongabay.com, an excess of 15,000 epiphytes exist in the neotropical zone.

Tropical stranglers typically come from the fig class. The Spanish word for strangler is “matapalo,” which translates to “killer tree.” Strangler figs initially exist as epiphytes, originated by excretions of fig-eating animals like birds and monkeys. Long strangler roots gradually grow toward forest floors, eventually surrounding their host trees.

Plant Deforestation

According to mongabay.com, sections of rainforest comparable to New Jersey’s size are annually torn down. As a result, tropical rainforest plants that erstwhile lived in these damaged sections die off. Humans are the primary cause for destroying large sections of rainforest plants. Reasons for such destruction include using wood from trees for timber and for fire, providing agriculture for farming and constructing roadways.


Tropical rainforest plants play an important role in restoring ecological environments worldwide. As asserted by mongabay.com, rainforest plants provide food for animals, as well as stabilize the global climate, aid in prevention of drought and erosion, provide medicines to humans and make up an appealing natural system to visit.

Saving Tropical Rainforest Plants

Mongabay.com experts believe that in order to save rainforest plant biodiversity, the goal should be to focus on a TREES approach to restoration and protection. This approach suggests the following method: Teaching others about the environment; restoring damaged plants by planting new trees; encouraging society to exercise environmentally savvy methods for living; establishing parks for the protection of rainforest plants; and supporting companies that function to preserve tropical rainforest plant systems.

About the Author

Jinnene Foster has worked as a freelance writer for advertising and personal health outlets since 2007. She teaches college-level writing courses. Foster's articles have appeared on Rollickguides.com and various other websites. Foster holds a Master of Arts in literary journalism from DePaul University.