The Amazon rainforest covers more than one billion acres of land and is home to more than 10 million species of plants, animals and insects. It produces more than 20 per cent of the earth's oxygen. More than half the world's plants live in tropical rainforests. Many of the flowering plants found in the Amazon rainforest have developed unique adaptations to ensure their continued survival.
Orchids represent 8 per cent of all the flowers found worldwide. Scientists have identified more than 18,000 different species, and an additional 10,000 to 12,000 have yet to be identified. More than 70 per cent of orchids are epiphytes, which are plants that grow on a host, much like a parasite. However, unlike parasites, epiphytes do not take any of their nutrients from the host plant; they get their nutrients directly from the air, rain and compost found on the tree branches. Orchids are well adapted to life in the rainforest canopy. They have large roots that are able to rapidly absorb water and nutrients. Orchids also have a secondary root system, which allows them to store large amounts of water for use during dry periods.
Bromeliads are another species of epiphytes found in the Amazon rainforest. These flowers have thick, waxy leaves that come together in the centre to form a type of bowl structure for catching and holding rainwater. Some of the larger Bromeliads can hold several gallons of water, and because of this, other animals and even other bromeliads can be found actually living in this water. There are more than 2,700 different species of bromeliads, and they can be found living in every layer of the rainforest.
Amazon Water Lily
The leaves of the Amazon water lily can grow more than 8 feet across and can support the weight of a grown human. This flower has adapted a unique way of ensuring the survival of their species. The flower, which can be a foot wide and is female, blooms a beautiful pure-white the first evening. The flower produces a chemical reaction that releases a warm scent that attracts the scarab beetle. As daylight approaches, the flower closes, trapping the beetle inside. During the following day, the flower becomes male, and as the beetle tries to free itself it becomes covered in pollen. The flower changes to a pink colour that is unattractive to the scarab beetle, and when it opens again in the evening, the beetle travels to another white flower, which starts the process over again.
Many flowers in the Amazon rainforest have been proven to have medicinal properties. Seventy per cent of the plants identified as having anti-cancer characteristics by the US National Cancer Institute are found only in the tropical rainforest. Some of these flowers include: Clavillia, which is used to kill viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites; White Trillium, which can help cure snake bites if the leaves are chewed, can help ease childbirth if the petals are chewed and can help cure fevers if the sepals are chewed; and Foxglove, which contain digitalis, a substance used to treat heart problems.
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