Types of Emergent Trees in a Tropical Rain Forest

Written by cathryn whitehead
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Types of Emergent Trees in a Tropical Rain Forest
Emergent trees are the tallest trees in tropical rainforests. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Tropical rainforests contain more types of trees than any area in the world. Emergent trees are the giant trees with canopies shaped like umbrellas that grow above the forest. According to Blue Planet Biomes, these trees are 100 to 240 feet tall with shallow roots and straight, smooth trunks with few branches. Buttresses spread out from the roots to help support the massive trees, sometimes reaching up to 30 feet wide.

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Kapok Tree

Kapok trees have round, smooth, grey trunks that can reach 9 feet in diameter, according to Ramapo College. The trees tower to 150 feet or more, producing horizontal branches that spread wide to house numerous rainforest animals and plants. Leaves are compound and palmate with five to nine leaflets that fall off in the dry season. The top of the kapok tree resembles an umbrella. Bats pollinate the five-petaled white or pale pink flowers that the tree produces. Kapok trees are native to the South American rainforest.

Brazil Nut Tree

As producers of rubber and the edible seeds known as Brazil nuts, Brazil nut trees are one of the most economically important plants in the tropical rainforest. About two dozen seeds are encased in round, rock hard fruits. Orchid bees pollinate the tree's flowers so it can produce more seeds, and a small, sharp-toothed mammal called the agouti cracks open the fruit and buries the seeds, allowing them to grow into new Brazil nut trees.

Dipterocarps

Dipterocarp trees are the emergent trees that dominate Asian rainforests in Borneo, Sumatra, Java, the Malay Peninsula and the wet parts of the Philippines. The tall, smooth-barked trees are buttressed to support their height and have no branches until they clear the canopy. They develop a cauliflower-shaped pattern as they emerge with leafy, evenly spaced branches that form a dome.

Tualang Trees

Tualang trees are emergent trees that can reach 250 feet in southeast Asia's tropical rainforest. Recognisable by the disc-shaped honeycombs hanging from the horizontal branches, tualang trees are valued for honey rather than as a source of timber. The smooth, silver bark is hard for predators such as bears to climb, and the trees don't branch out below a height of 100 feet, making them ideal for honeybees to build nests that can reach 6 feet wide. The wood is brittle and difficult to cut, often splintering. Members of the legume family, tualang trees have bright green, alternate, pinnate leaves that grow in four to five leaflets.

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