Tropical rainforests contain most of the plant species on Earth. As their name indicates, rainforests are wet and have high humidity. So many different kinds of plants thrive there because of the warmth of the tropics and the plentiful rain. Explaining the plant diversity of tropical rainforests for kids is easy when you split the numerous plants in to groups. Start at the floor of the rainforest and work your way up to the top layer.
The Forest Floor
The first thing to explain about plants of the rainforest is that on the floor of the rainforest are plants that never see the sun. Plant life or vegetation is so thick in the rainforest that the lowest levels are plants that can thrive on a lot of water and little sun. Plants like fungus that kids might find on rocks thrive at the bottom of the rainforest. Other plants in the rainforest that thrive on the lower levels are ferns and herbs. Kids can find ferns and herbs outside of the rainforest in many non-tropical areas. Many plant stores carry ferns as houseplants and herb plants for cooks.
The Canopy Layer
The next layer of plants in the rainforest are the canopy trees. These trees are as high as 70 feet. Kids can understand how this canopy works by looking at large trees and seeing how the branches provide a canopy of shade around the tree. This canopy is one of the reasons the plants on the floor of the rainforest must live without much sun. The trunks of the canopy plants are often covered in small plants called epiphytes. Epiphytes need more sunlight than the plants on the rainforest floor. The canopy trees can also have vines wrapped around them starting from the rainforest floor.
The Top Layer
The top layer of plants have their roots in the rainforest floor like the other layers. These tall plants, some as tall as 200 feet, have evolved to survive. These plants have complex root systems to get nutrients to grow as tall as they do. Their large leafs attract animals that want to feed on them. These plants have evolved unpleasant tasting and even poisonous chemicals in their leaves to keep animals from feeding on them. Some top layer plants have hollow branches. Ant colonies thrive in the warm hollow branches and emerge to attack any other insects that might try to feed on the giant plants.
Kids can understand the plants of the rainforest by visiting the fruit section of the local grocery store. Some foods kids can find in the grocery store are pineapples, bananas, grapefruit, avocado and coconuts. All of these fruits are from plants of the tropical rainforest. In the spice section of the grocery store kids can see ginger, paprika, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and chocolate. These spices all come from plants from the rainforest.
- "Rainforests: An Activity Guide for Ages 6-9"; Nancy Castaldo; 2003
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