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Plants on the rainforest floor

Updated February 21, 2017

According to the Nature Conservancy, although the world's rainforests cover only about two per cent of the Earth's surface, they are home to more than 50 per cent of the Earth's plants and animals. In addition, a four-square plot of rainforest can contain as many as 1,500 types of flowering plants and 750 species of trees. With more than 145,000 square kilometres (56,000 square miles) of rainforest disappearing every year, it's important to know which ground plants thrive in the rainforest environment and provide beauty and food.

Poinsettia

Found in the tropical rainforests of Central America and southern Mexico, poinsettias grow wild and are the size of a small bush. The poinsettia was named after the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, when he brought home the showy plant he spied growing wild on the hillsides of Mexico. The most striking part of the plant is actually not the flower, but the bright red leaves of the plant; the flowers are the tiny, yellow stalks that protrude from the centre of the red leaves. Because of its brilliant red beauty, the poinsettia has become a symbol of the festive season.

Orchid

Orchids are one of those rare plants that can grow high up in the air, on the ground or even underground. More than 25,000 species of wild orchids have been discovered, with 10,000 of those found in tropical rainforests. About 100,000 hybrids have been cultivated outside of the rainforest. Most tropical orchids are found in the rainforests of northwest South America, southern Central America and countries that are along the Andes Mountains. Known for their delicate beauty and vast array of colours, orchids can be as small as a nickel in full bloom, or weigh up to 0.9 tonnes (1 ton) with petals as long as 75 cm (30 inches) across.

Coffee

Africa and Latin America are two of the primary regions in which this rainforest plant is found. Beyond human consumption, coffee offers many benefits. The wood of the plant is used to build furniture, coffee berries are sometimes eaten by children because of their sweetness, the fruit pulp can be fed to livestock or composted and used for fertiliser, and purified caffeine can be packaged and sold for medicinal purposes.

Bananas

Bananas, together with their cousin the plantain, are the fourth-largest fruit crop in the world. Indigenous to southeast Asia and northern Australia, these tropical plants were taken to South America in the 1600s by the Portuguese and are also now found in Africa. This popular fruit actually does not grow from a tree as most people believe, but grows from giant herb plants. A mature banana plant can weigh up to 45.4 kg (100 lb) and produce 150 bananas. Because of the unique water conservation structure of overlapping leaves that form the trunk, the plant is particularly susceptible to high winds and entire crops can be destroyed when severe weather strikes.

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About the Author

Kristie Brown is a publisher, writer and editor. She has contributed to magazines, textbooks and online publications. Brown holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Texas at Austin.