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Image of some plants in a Tropical Rainforest.Tropical Rainforest: Plants
Although tropical rainforests receive 12 hours of sunlight daily, less than 2% of that sunlight ever reaches the ground. The tropical rainforest has dense vegetation, often forming three different layers--the canopy, the understory, and the ground layer. Frequently, people think of the tropical rainforest as a "jungle" where plant growth is dense even at ground level. However, the canopy created by the tall trees (100-120 feet) and the understory, prevents sunlight from reaching the ground. The soil is, therefore, always shaded, and very little vegetation is able to survive at ground level.

Vegetation can become dense at ground level near riverbanks and on hillsides. Hillsides have more plant growth because the angle of the growing surface allows sunlight to reach lower layers of the forest. Riverbeds break up the forest canopy so that smaller plants can get the needed sunlight.

Image of a strangler fig tree and its long roots.Plant adaptation
Plant survival in a tropical rainforest depends on the plant's ability to tolerate constant shade or to adapt strategies to reach sunlight. Fungus is a good example of a plant that flourishes in warm, dark places created by the forest canopy and understory.

Competition for sunlight by plants is sometimes deadly. The strangler fig needs sunlight to grow and reproduce. Seeds falling to the ground quickly die in the deep shade and infertile soil of the tropical rainforest. So it has adapted. Its seeds are deposited on branches of host trees by birds and small animals that have eaten the fruit of the strangler fig. The seeds sprout and send a long root to the ground. This root rapidly increases in diameter and successfully competes for the water and nutrients in the soil. As the strangler fig matures, branches and leaves grow upwards creating a canopy that blocks sunlight from the host tree. Additional roots are sent out and wrap around the host tree, forming a massive network of roots that strangle and eventually kill the host. Photos 2000-www.arttoday.com

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Animals | Plants

Biomes | Biome Summary | How to Read a Climograph | Arctic Tundra | Deciduous Forest | Desert | Taiga | Tropical Rainforest | Tropical Savannah

Diversity | Adaptation | Plate Tectonics | Cycles | Spheres | Biomes | Geologic Time

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April 28, 2005

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