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How do Plants Adapt to the Rainforest Climate?

Problems That Rainforest Plants Face Plants that live in the rainforest have adapted in amazing ways to several very difficult conditions. This means that the plant has changed something in its "body" or "habits" (the things that it does) to make it easier to survive in difficult conditions. There are several conditions they have had to adapt to. First, the soil of the forest floor is shallow, which means not very deep. Also, the soil of the rainforest is not very fertile, or easy to grow in. Most of the nutrients, or vitamins and minerals that help plants grow are contained in the living trees of the rainforest, not in the soil. The forest floor and understory do not receive much light, which also makes it difficult for plants to survive there. Next, is the problem of very heavy rains which continue over a large part of the year. Finally, many plants of the rainforest are food for animals that live there. This is not a problem for rainforest animals, but it is one for rainforest plants! The biggest problem that rainforest plants have to adapt to is the lack of sunlight in the rainforests lower levels. Plants have adapted to this problem in several ways. Many plants have very large leaves. Large leaves are helpful because they have more surface area. The more surface area a leaf has the more sunlight it can absorb. The canopy trees adapt by growing to be 100 feet tall so that their leaves can grab all available sunlight. Other plants called lianas (climbing woody vines) have adapted by rooting themselves in the soil of the forest floor and growing up the trees until they reach the canopy layer. Still other plants, such as epiphytes, have adapted by growing directly on the trees trunks and branches in the canopy and understory layers of the rainforest.



An adaptation to the large amounts of rainfall that many rainforest plants have is called drip tips. Their leaves are tapered to a sharp point at the end. This allows water to run off of the leaf quickly. Two additional adaptations to rainfall include leaves having a waxy film allowing quick runoff and most leaves also have flexible stems which allow water to drip from the leaves to the soil below. There are many other adaptations that rainforest plants have made to their environment. These will be discussed in detail, as we investigate the plants of the rainforest!

Drip Tip

Plant Adaptations Listed

1. Bark In drier, temperate deciduous forests a thick bark helps to limit moisture evaporation from the tree's trunk. Since this is not a concern in the high humidity of tropical rainforests, most trees have a thin, smooth bark. The smoothness of the bark may also make it difficult for other plants to grow on their surface. 2. Lianas

Lianas are climbing woody vines that drape rainforest trees. They have adapted to life in the rainforest by having their roots in the ground and climbing high into the tree canopy to reach available sunlight. Many lianas start life in the rainforest canopy and send roots down to the ground. 3. Drip Tips The leaves of forest trees have adapted to cope with exceptionally high rainfall. Many tropical rainforest leaves have a drip tip. It is thought that these drip tips enable rain drops to run off quickly. Plants need to shed water to avoid growth of fungus and bacteria in the warm, wet tropical rainforest. 4. Buttresses Many large trees have massive ridges near the base that can rise 30 feet high before blending into the trunk. Why do they form? Buttress roots provide extra stability, especially since roots of tropical rainforest trees are not typically as deep as those of trees in temperate zones. 5. Prop and Stilt Roots Prop and stilt roots help give support and are characteristic of tropical palms growing in shallow, wet soils. Although the tree grows fairly slowly, these aboveground roots can grow 28 inches a month. 6. Epiphytes Epiphytes are plants that live on the surface of other plants, especially the trunk and branches. They grow on trees to take advantage of the sunlight in the canopy. Most are orchids, bromeliads, ferns, and Philodendron relatives. Tiny plants called epiphylls, mostly mosses, liverworts and lichens, live on the surface of leaves. 7. Bromeliads Bromeliads are found almost exclusively in the Americas. Some grow in the ground, like pineapple, but most species grow on the branches of trees. Their leaves form a vase or tank that holds water. Small roots anchor plants to supporting branches, and their broad leaf bases form a water-holding tank or cup. The tank's capacity ranges from half a pint to 12 gallons or more. The tanks support a thriving eco-system of bacteria, protozoa, tiny crustaceans, mosquito and dragonfly larvae, tadpoles, birds, salamanders and frogs.

Mangroves On tropical deltas and along ocean edges and river estuaries, trees have adapted to living in wet, marshy conditions. These trees, called mangroves, have widespreading stilt roots that support the trees in the tidal mud and trap nutritious organic matter. Nepenthes Pitcher plant vines in the family Nepenthaceae have leaves that form a pitcher, complete with a lid. Sweet or foulsmelling nectar in the pitcher attracts insects, especially ants and flies, that lose their grip on the slick sides and fall into the liquid. Downward-pointing hairs inside the pitcher prevent the insects' escape. The insects are digested by the plants and provide nutrients. Pitcher plants are not epiphytes but climbers rooted in the soil.


Directions: Use the information from the reading sheet to help you answer the following questions. Write your answers as complete sentences.

1. The main idea of this article is: a. Plants are food for many of the rainforest animals. b. Plants have adapted to difficult conditions in the rainforest. c. There is not much light in the rainforest, so it is hard for plants to live.

2. What does adapt mean? _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________

3. List the difficult conditions that plants have had to adapt to in the rainforest: _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ 4. What are four different ways that plants have adapted to lack of sunlight in the rainforest? _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________ 5. How do drip tips help plants adapt to the heavy rainfalls in the rainforest?

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