Adapting to rainforest life

The vegetation in the rainforest has evolved characteristics which help it to survive in this unique environment.

Each has adapted to rainforest conditions in a different way.

  • Fan palms have large, fan-shaped leaves that are good for catching sunshine and water. The leaves are segmented, so excess water can drain away.
  • Rainforests have a shallow layer of fertile soil, so trees only need shallow roots to reach the nutrients. However, shallow roots can't support huge rainforest trees, so many tropical trees have developed huge buttress roots. These stretch from the ground to two metres or more up the trunk and help to anchor the tree to the ground.
  • Lianas are woody vines that start at ground level, and use trees to climb up to the canopy where they spread from tree to tree to get as much light as possible.
  • Strangler figs start at the top of a tree and work down. The seed is dropped in a nook at the top of a tree and starts to grow, using the debris collected there as nourishment. Gradually the fig sends aerial roots down the trunk of the host, until they reach the ground and take root. As it matures, the fig will gradually surround the host, criss-cross its roots around the trunk and start to strangle. The figs branches will grow taller to catch the sunlight and invasive roots rob the host of nutrients. Eventually the host will die and decompose leaving the hollow but sturdy trunk of the strangler fig.