A rain forest can be split up into three main layers. At the very top, the canopy supports the greatest density of life, from palm trees to brightly colored parrots. At the bottom is the forest floor, which receives little sunshine. Between those two is the understory, which features an ecosystem that rivals the other layers.
Canopy trees can extend 40 feet, with branches growing only near the tree tops in order to receive as much sunlight as possible. Because of the canopy layer, the understory is relatively dim and dark. The air is still, and only a stronger gust of wind ripples through. And if you stood in an understory tree during a rainstorm, it would take some time before you felt the first few raindrops. The canopy layer would block much of the rain, despite rain forests' frequent and heavy downpours.
Understory plants have evolved to live with less sunlight and nutrients than their canopy counterparts. They grow larger, wider leaves in order to catch any sunlight or water that trickles down. The flowers are smaller and paler and do not always grow at the end of a plant. Instead, in order to aid pollination, plants may grown them on their stem or trunk in order to attract greater attention. These adaptations come down even to smell: "Flowers pollinated by hawkmoths, for example, have a heavy, sweet fragrance, while those pollinated by bats have a meaty, sweaty odor," the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute says.
Like plants, many understory animals have grown adaptations in order to live there. Take the jaguar, for instance. The jaguar spends a large portion of its life in understory branches, waiting and watching for pray to pass on the forest floor below, and in order to climb with ease, the jaguar has chest, shoulder and back muscles to rival any other big cat. Or look at the tree frog, which thrives in the understory's dark, damp and humidity. It has suction cups attached to its feet.
Lichen and Moss
Plants and tree trunks in the understory may have a pale-blue or a sea-green patch on them. It would feel like a fish's scales, or perhaps slimy or rough, if you ran your hand over it. These growths are lichens and mosses. They share a symbiotic relationship with their host, receiving the necessary photosynthetic materials to live.