The damp, tropical conditions of a rainforest provide a growing climate suitable for a variety of plant life. The rich soil and abundant rainfall make it possible for hardy rainforest plants to thrive. These plants range from colourful orchids to leafy green plants and even carnivorous species, making rainforest plant life an interesting subject to introduce to children.
The Venus flytrap and the pitcher plant (Nepenthes rafflesiana) are two well-known carnivorous plants that thrive in the lush conditions of a tropical rainforest. The pitcher plant, which can grow to 30 feet in length and is found in southeast Asia, feeds on insects and even small mammals. Venus flytraps are readily available in the United States. Consider setting up a display in the classroom and allowing children to feed the plant to watch how it captures and digests its foods. While the plant refers to flies, the Venus flytrap will eat a variety of insects.
There are over 20,000 species of orchid. These orchids are common to the tropical rainforest climate and grow both in soil and on trees. Orchids vary drastically in shape, colour and size, but all orchids share the three-petal characteristic. Orchids can be purchased and used in the classroom to demonstrate the variety of colours and shapes these plants have. An ideal activity for the classroom might be to bring in a variety of orchids and let children choose their favourites to draw or write about.
Bromeliads are related to the pineapple family. They have waxy leaves that are thick and shaped like a bowl. Many of these plants function as mini ecosystems for a variety of insect life as well as smaller animals, including frogs and salamanders. Bromeliads can often hold several gallons of water. Consider comparing the Bromeliad to a pineapple to allow children to note the differences between the plants. While the two are in the same family, the plants have different functions.
Epiphytes grow almost everywhere in the rainforest, but they are found mainly growing on trees. These plants are referred to as air plants because they begin life as spores carried by the wind, growing wherever they attach. The wind-carrying reproduction of the spores provides a platform for a discussion of rainforest weather conditions, and the features of the plant provide a foundation for a discussion about plant reproductivity.
Lianas are a climbing vine plant found in the world's tropical rainforests. They have thick wood stems and can grow as long as 3,000 feet in length. These vines begin growing on the ground but work their way up trees and rely on trees for support. Upon reaching the top of one tree, the liana will spread to nearby trees, creating thick canopies.
Strangler plants are part of the fig family and common to tropical rainforests. These plants begin life in a tree, where seeds are dropped by monkeys and birds. Strangler fig grows downward, surrounding the host tree and growing into the ground to strangle (suffocate) the host tree. Compare and contrast the strangler fig and the lianas with your class. The two are similar in the way they grow, but the strangler fig has a negative effect on other rainforest plant life (it's sometimes called the killer plant), while the lianas grow in such a way that they enhance the surroundings.