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Facts About Rainforest Floor Plants

Updated February 21, 2017

According to the Space Radiation Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, the forest floor of a rainforest is a barren place where plants find it difficult to grow. The majority of life in the rainforest is found higher up in the tree canopy. Some of the life found on the rainforest floor includes insects needed for recycling decaying material back into the soil for fertilisation.

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The California Institute of Technology reports the rainforest can be divided into four different layers. The highest or emergent layer is found 200 feet above the rainforest floor and is characterised by the tops of trees with trunks up to 16 feet around. Below the emergent layer is the canopy layer, which is an abundant area of plant and animal life above the final two layers. The understory layer is an area of large leaved plants that receive little or no sunlight and rarely grow taller than 12 feet. Finally, the rainforest floor is the bottom layer with little light and few plants.

Little Rain or Sun

The rainforest floor is an area that receives little sunlight because above it is usually 100 feet of leaves and tree limbs that soak up all the available sun light, water and wind. The rainforest floor is marked by the lack of sunlight with only around .5 to 5 per cent of available sunlight reaching the bottom layer of dirt and mud. In some rainforest areas, such as Australia's wet tropics region, some plants do grow as they have adapted to the difficult living conditions. According to the Australian Governments Wet Tropics website, the plants that are able to live in this region are primitive plants that have been present on Earth for millions of years.


The majority of plants that grow on the forest floor are used by insects such as the Madagascar hissing cockroach and the giant African millipede as food. The National Aquarium in Baltimore describes how these insects are some of the only animals that live on the rainforest floor, along with ants and anteaters. The insects of the rainforest floor transform the plants of the floor into fertiliser through their faeces, which adds nutrients to the infertile soil for the larger plants and trees of the higher layers of the forest to use for growth.


Plants that learn to survive on the rainforest floor usually adapt to the environment by finding different ways to live. The Center for Educational Technologies Earth Science Department describes fungi as a form of plant life that has adapted to live in the warm, moist conditions of the rainforest floor. Other plants such as the strangler gig attach themselves to host plants and trees on the forest floor to feed off the water and nutrients these trees find.


Despite the difficult environment, The Center for Educational Technologies reports that areas of deep growth of plants are possible on the rainforest floor. Usually, these areas are marked by landscape details such as hillsides or rivers. Along riverbanks plant life can grow on the rainforest floor as riverbeds provide a break in the dense build up of trees that result in the rainforest canopy being formed. Sunlight reaches the ground in these areas allowing small areas of dense undergrowth to form.

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About the Author

Paul Cartmell began his career as a writer for documentaries and fictional films in the United Kingdom in the mid-1990s. Working in documentary journalism, Cartmell wrote about a wide variety of subjects including racism in professional sports. Cartmell attended the University of Lincoln and London Metropolitan University, gaining degrees in journalism and film studies.

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