What are the most unusual plants in the rainforest?



  1. 0 Votes

    The tropical rainforests represent the center of the planet’s plant diversity, and are home to thousands of plant species with many unique and amazing adaptations.  Any list of the rainforests’ most unusual plants will naturally be incomplete, as it would be impossible to consider them all in a single answer.  However in the answer below, I’ve taken a look at a few rainforest plants that stand out as particularly intriguing, interesting, or just plain strange. 

    Rafflesia Plant
     The rafflesia plant, found in the tropical rainforests of Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia, produces the largest flowers in the world– but that’s just the beginning of what makes this plant unique.  There are 17 species of rafflesia, all of which live as parasites on other plants.  Unlike most plants, rafflesia’s lack the green pigment chlorophyll, and receive all the nutrients they need from their host plants.  In nature, much of a rafflesia would be invisible to the naked eye; it is made of thin strands that embed themselves in another plant’s tissues, sucking away some of the nutrients that would otherwise feed its host.  The part of a rafflesia that’s definitely noticeable, however, is the flower; though they only last five to seven days, the flowers of some rafflesia species reach a diameter of three feet, and may weigh as much as fifteen pounds.  The flowers are dull red in color, and give off a smell often compared to rotting meat.  Any list of unusual rainforest plants would have to include these strange and exceptional flowers.  
    The bromeliads make up a family of about 3,000 known plant species, most of which are found in the tropical forests of Central and South America.  The most familiar bromeliad species is probably the pineapple, a plant that has been cultivated as a food source for hundreds of years – first by Native Americans, then by Europeans.  Yet the bromeliads that really qualify as “unusual” plants species are those that spend their lives as epiphytes– plants that live perched on tree trunks or limbs, far above the ground.  Epiphytic bromeliads do not appear to harm the trees that support them, but obtain all the nutrients they need from rain water and from dead leaves and other organic material in the forest canopy.  They benefit from being raised above the shaded forest floor closer to sunlight, and also provide habitat for a variety of small rainforest animals.  Most famously, certain bromeliad species collect water in a natural bowl formed by their tightly-knit leaves; these pools then become a home for insects, amphibians, and other small creatures.  In fact, the strawberry poison-dart frog has become so dependent on bromeliads that members of this species deposit their tadpoles in pools of water caught in the plants, with the result that young frogs reach maturity while suspended high above the forest floor. 
    Strangler Fig
    The strangler fig is unusual because of its unique life cycle, which has evolved over time to make these plants highly successful in tropical rainforest habitats around the world.  Like many tropical plants, strangler fig seeds are distributed when they are eaten by birds or other animals and passed out in the animal’s droppings – often high in the rainforest canopy.  After becoming stuck to a tree trunk or limb, a strangler fig seed sprouts and begions to grow.  For the first part of its life the strangler fig exists as an epiphyte, like a bromeliad.  However while epiphytic bromeliads spend their entire lives high above the ground, a strangler fig slowly sends long roots down to the rainforest soil, and begins to grow larger and larger until it actually smothers and kills its host tree.  Over time, the strangler fig’s roots dig into the host tree’s bark and cut off the flow of nutrients, while the fig’s leaves compete with its host for sunlight.  Eventually the host tree dies – but by this time the fig has become a tree in its own right, its hollow trunk capable of standing alone in the forest.  The unique “trunk” of the tree – actually composed of woody, interweaving roots – provides prime habitat for a variety of insects, reptiles, birds, and other animals that hide in the hollows and furrows in the tree bark. 
    Tree Ferns
    These remarkable plants are unusual because while they resemble a type of palm tree, they are actually more closely related to the much smaller, often inconspicuous ferns common in moist habitat in temperate regions.  Tree ferns have evolved their substantial height and woody trunks quite independently of other tree species – most of which belong to either the conifer or flowering plant families.  Most of the 650 or so species of tree ferns are found in tropical or sub-tropical forest habitats, and their natural range spans several continents.  The larger species can reach a height of twenty feet, with enormous fronds that may be as much as nine feet across.  Though tree ferns today are far less common than conifers and flowering trees, their history goes back until well before the time of the dinosaurs.  Indeed, it’s likely that some of the first trees ever were tree ferns, belonging to species that lived in the ancient Carboniferous period millions of years ago.  Not surprisingly given their impressive appearance, tree ferns today have become popular with gardeners, and are grown in cultivation in regions warm enough for them to survive. 
    Bull’s Horn Acacia
    The five species of bull’s horn acacia trees are native to the tropical forests of Central America, and provide one of the most interesting examples of cooperation between a plant and animal species.  These tropical trees have evolved a mutualistic relationship with a particular species of ant – meaning both the trees and the ants depend on each other to thrive in the wild.  “Acacia ants” do not live anywhere except for on bull’s horn acacia trees, where they make their colonies inside of the hollow, swollen thorns that give the trees their name.  Though these thorns look imposing, it turns out the ants are the ones that really provide a bull’s horn acacia’s main line of defense.  An acacia ant colony defends its chosen tree zealously, killing leaf-eating insects and attacking other ants that venture onto their home turf.  Even people and other large mammals do well to avoid touching a bull’s horn acacia, as the protector ants have a painful sting and will defend their trees against much larger animals.  In return for protection, bull’s horn acacia trees secrete a special nectar, the sole purpose of which seems to be to provide their resident ant colonies with food.  The relationship between these two highly different species is just one more example of the unique adaptations rainforest plants have evolved to survive.
  2. 0 Votes

    I think this one is quite unusual.  It is called Rafflesia Arnoldii, it produces the largest flower in the world.  Although it is a parasite, I think it looks quite magnificant.

    [img_assist|nid=158045|title=Rafflesia Arnoldii|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=0|height=0]

    Information from A Trip to Indonesia (2001). [Online], Available: http://www.kidcyber.com.au

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    The giant corpse flower is also one of the rainforest’s strange plant species. It is a flowering plant with the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world. These giant plants can reach over 3 meters in circumference. The fragrance of these plants resembles that of rotting meat, thus causing it to attract carrion eating beetles and flesh flies that pollinate it. The deep red color of the plant is to contribute to the illusion that the spathe is a piece of meat. 



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    When travelling in the rainforest a few years ago, the plant that struck me as most unusual was the Walking Palm tree!  This tree literally moves by sending out new roots to move to a more fertile location.  It can pull itself, very slowly, in any direction.  It takes years for it to move, and in its lifetime it probably won’t go far.  But still, it was pretty cool, and definitely unique.

    Walking Palm Tree

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    Calamus spp. or rattan is a very unusual plant in Asia. It is not rare, though it is unusal in that local people use it for almost everything. Rattan furniture is exported all over the world, but locally the plant can be stripped down and used as rope, it can be used for constructing homes, you can extract drinking water from the stalks, and it can even be eaten. Calamus spp. stalk is covered in spikes and grows leaves that look like thick ferns. Calamus spp. can house scorpions as well as the poisonous viper snake.

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    In the rainforest lies the Nipple Plant or Cow Udder Plant. It is a lovely perennial, characterized by “large velvety leaves, small purple flowers, and firm thorns” (Squidooo). It is called a Nipple plant because the bright orange yellow fruit, similar to tomatos, which are shaped like cow udders or nipples. The fruits are very poisonous though and stay on the plants for up to two months, which is bery unusual! It is native to South America and can be used as a detergent in for clothes washing.


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    The Victoria Amazonica is a giant lilypad that is truly bizzare!

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    I am growing a pet like plant that moves and closes its leaves when you Tickle It.

     See video http://www.ticklemeplant.com

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