Tropical Rainforest Plants

There are many different kinds of tropical rainforest plants in Australia.

Tropical rainforests are some of the species-richest ecosystems in the world.

They grow in areas with the best conditions for plant growth in the world – with year-around warm temperatures, plenty of sunlight and rainfall.

The Daintree Rainforest, Cape Tribulation National Park, Queensland, Australia
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Despite the fact that their soils are poor on nutrients, they support so many species that they have been compared to coral reef ecosystems. Here is some information on what types of plants are found in tropical rainforest biomes in Australia.

Giant Strangler Fig (Ficus Aurea), Woka Palms (Livistona Rotundifolia), Tangkoko Batuangus Reserve
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Tropical Rainforest Plants: Tall Trees
The most successful plants in the tropical rainforests are the tall trees. They can be up to 60 metres tall, and they form the tropical rainforest canopy, which gets most of the light and is so thick that there is no light left to reach the rainforest floor. Some of the tallest trees in Australian tropical rainforests are Queensland Kauri Pine (Agathis robusta), Bull Kauri (Agathis microcostachya), Bubya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii), Brown Pine (Podocarpus grayae), Black Pine (Sundacarpus amara), Rose Gum (Eucalyptus grandis), Red Cedar (Toona ciliata), Milky Pine (Alstonia acholaris), Damson (Terminalia sericocarpa), Pink Ash (Alphitonia petriei), Black Walnut (Endiandra palmerstonii), Brown Tulip Oak (Argyrodendron), Silver maple (Flindersia acuminate), Candlenut (Aleurites rockhinghamensis) and Wheel-of-Fire (Stenocarpus sinuatus).

Buttress Roots of the Silk Cotton Tree, Ceiba Pentandra, Which Can Grow to over 60 Meters High
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Tropical Rainforest Plants: Buttresses and Fig Trees
These tall trees often have buttress roots, because the rainforest ground is often very moist, and just like mangroves, rainforest trees need to keep parts of their roots above the ground to get oxygen. Another interesting group of tall rainforest trees are fig trees. Most of them have distinctive fruits, which grow in big bunches. There are different groups of fig trees, some are tall trees, others grow as vines, and strangler figs start off as epiphytes and then grow long roots that finally reach the ground, by which time the parent tree has usually died of lack of nutrients. Some figs in Australian tropical rainforests are Variegated Fig (Ficus variegate), Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina), Cluster Fig (Ficus racemosa), Hairy Fig (Ficus hispida), Watkins Fig (Ficus watkinsiana), Red Leaf Fig (Ficus congesta), Rusty Fig (Ficus destruens), Banan Fig (Ficus pleurocarpa), Septic Fig (Ficus septic), White Fig (Ficus virens) and Fig (Ficus virgata).

Rainforest Canopy, Cape Tribulation National Park, Queensland, Australia
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Tropical Rainforest Plants: Different Types of Ferns
Another group of common tropical rainforests plants are ferns. Ferns are a group of plants that have survived since the times of dinosaurs, and they still have an ancient reptroductive system, where they have no seeds or flowers like modern flowering plants, instead they reproduce asexually using spores on the underside of their leaves. Ferns found in Australian tropical rainforests include Basket Fern (Drynaria rigidula), King Fern (Angiopteris evecta), Filmy Fern (Hymenophyllum walleri), Fern (Nephrolepis hirsutula), Filmy Maindenhair (Adiantum diaphanum), Rough Maindenhair (Adiantum hispidulum), Umbrella Fern (Sticherus flabellatus), Dwarf Hare’s Foot Fern (Humata repens), Coral Fern (Lycopodiella cernua), Selaginella (Selaginella longipinna) and Gristle Fern (Blechnum cartilagineum). But the most impressive are tree ferns: Rebecca’s tree fern (Cyathea rebeccae), Scaly Tree Fern (Cyathea cooperi) and Tree Fern (Cyathea woollsiana).

Queensland, Fraser Island, Tropical Palms in the Rainforest Area of Wanggoolba Creek, Australia
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Tropical Rainforest Plants: Different Types of Palm Trees
Another interesting group of rainforest trees are palm trees. Like tree ferns, palm trees commonly have long branchless trunk and long leaves that emerge from the crown on top of the trunk. They are not related however (palm trees are modern, flowering plants), and palm trees like much more light than ferns and tree ferns. In Australian tropical rainforests, there are Grey Palm (Oraniopsis appendiculata), Solitaire Palm (Ptychosperma elegans), Alexandra Palm (Archontophoenix alexandrae), Wedge Leaflet Fan palm (Licuala ramsayi), Fishtail Lawyer Cane (Calamus caryotoides), Foxtail Palm (Wodyetia bifurgata), Minor Walking Stick Palm (Linospadox minor) and Myola Palm (Archontophoenix myolensis).

Amazon, Amazon River, A Liana Reaches Down to the Forest Floor from the Rainforest Canopy, Amazon,
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Tropical Rainforest Plants: Rainforest Vines
Because of the competition of light all the tropical rainforest plants try to get as high up as possible. Tall trees are the winners, and their canopies are so thick that almost no light reaches the ground. The ground is too dark for healthy plant life and all the plants have different adaptations how to reach the light higher up. Vines for example are a group of plants that use the stems of tall trees and climb up to the light. Once they are up on the canopy, they cover it. Some vines in Australian tropical rainforests are Small Leaved Fire Vine (Tetracera nordtiana), Common Pepper (Piper caninum), Variegated Grape (Cissus repens), Smilax (Smilax blumei), Austral Sarsapilla (Smilax australis), Christmas Vine (Turbina corymbosa), Climbing Guinea Flower (Hibbertia scandens), Lacewing Vine (Adenia heterophylla), Pumpkin Vine (Stephania sp), Native Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia acuminate), Wild Raspberry (Rubus alceifolius), Rose Leaf Bramble (Rubus queenslandicus), Native Monstera (Epipremnum pinnatum), Common Hoya (Hoya australis), Blood Vine (Austrosteenisia blackii), Pothos (Pothos longipes), Glory Vine (Faradaya splendid), Climbing Bamboo (Bambusa moreheadiana), Carronia (Carronia protensa), Vandasina (Vandasian retusa) and Scrambling Lily (Geitonoplesium cymosum).

Epiphytic Fern Growing on Redwood, Temperate Rainforest, Pacific Coast, North America
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Tropical Rainforest Plants: Climbing Ferns and Ephiphytes
Other plants with clever adaptations that use tall trees to get up to the light are climbing ferns and epiphytes. Some of the climbing ferns found in Australian tropical rainforest biomes are Slender Cucumber (Zehneria cunninghamii) and Coarse Climbing Fern (Lygodium reticulatum). Epiphytes such as Birds Nest Fern (Asplenium australasicum), Ant Plant (Myrmecodia beccarii) and Northern Elkhorn (Platucerium hillii) don’t even have to climb. They start growing high up on tree trunks as little plants, when birds drop their seeds there. Some epiphytes, like strangler figs (as mentioned above) start growing their roots down until they reach the ground. The host tree is by then killed and the fig tree can lean on its dead trunk, while it would be too weak yet to stand so high up on its roots. By the time the dead tree trunk weakens as it starts rotting, the fig tree roots are strong enough that it can stand by itself. There are many such stangler figs in Australian rainforests, but some of the most famous ones are Curtain Fig Tree and Cathedral Fig Tree on Atherton Tablelands.

Trees in Cloud Forest, Henri Pittier National Park, Venezuela
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Shrubs and Understorey Tropical Rainforest Plants
Although the rainforest ground is dark, and usually not suitable for small plants to grow, small plants get a chance after a large tree has fallen and opened the canopy. Just like Australian eucalypt trees have adapted to bushfires, tropical rainforest plants and trees have adapted to tropical cyclones (hurricanes). Once a cyclone destroys the rainforest canopy, light can reach the ground and small shrubs and herbs get a chance to grow. Some shrubs found in Australian tropical rainforests are Chain Fruit (Alyxia ruscifolia), Hairy Red Pittosporum (Pittosporum rubiginosum), Bandicoot Berry (Leea indica), Blue Rubi (Lasianthus strigosus), Gardenia (Gardenia actinocarpa), Wenlock Gardenia (Larsenaikia ochereata) and Sandfly Bush (Zieria smithii).

Jungle, Tikal, Guatemala
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Herbs and Understorey Tropical Rainforest Plants
Some herbs found in Australian tropical rainforest biomes are Devil’s Apple (Solanum capsicoides), Nightshade (Solanum viridifolium), Native Banana (Musa banksii), Native Coleus (Plectranthus sp), Stinking Cockspur Flower (Plectranthus foetidus), Pollia (Pollia macrophylla), Native Ginger (Alpinia caerulea), Pleated Ginger (Alpinia arctiflora), Stalkless Ginger (Alpinia modesta), Palm Lily (Cordyline cannifolia), Giant Palm Lily (Cordyline manners-suttoniae), Ivy-leaved Violet (Viola hederacea), Christmas Orchid (Calanthe triplicate) and Weevil Lily (Molineria capitulata).

Carnivorous Pitcher Plants
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Dangerous and Carnivorous Tropical Rainforest Plants
Be very careful tasting rainforest plants. Many of them are poisonous and if you don’t know them, it’s best to not even touch them as many, as the Stinging Tree (Dendrocnide moroides) gives you are very painful sting that can last for a long time, and it can kill allergic people. There are also some carnivorous ones, particularly up in Cape York, and these include different species of sundews and tropical pitcher plants.


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