Rainforests are comprised of four unique layers--the emergent, canopy and understory layers and forest floor--and each has it's own diverse eco-system. According to the Rainforest Alliance, over 50 percent of the earth's plants live in the rainforest, including liana vines, kapok trees and buttress, stilt and prop roots. Rainforest plants offer shelter, shade and food to rainforest animals, are harvested by humans for functional and medicinal purposes and produce much of the world's oxygen supply.
Rainforests are a haven for unique vine species. One of these types is called liana, a thick, climbing vine found in abundance in tropical rainforests. Lianas can have a variety of woody formations and can be as long as 3,000 feet. Lianas have an interesting life span for a plant, beginning growth along the rainforest floor, then climbing up along nearby tree trunks as they seek out the canopy sunlight exposure necessary for plant survival. Lianas attach their woody vines to tree trunks and branches with sucker-like roots, sometimes wrapping themselves around the trunk of a tree several times. Animals-- such as monkeys-- use giant lianas as transportation between trees. Lianas and other similar thick rainforest vines are used by human populations to make baskets, furniture and sturdy ropes.
Buttress, Stilt and Prop Roots
Rainforest trees have evolved to survive despite poor-quality soil environments and varied weather conditions. Tall trees commonly form "buttressed" roots that extend from beyond the bottom of the trunk, often as high as 15 feet. These roots provide much-needed support for giant rainforest trees, enabling them to endure strong winds. Additionally, buttressed roots cover a greater rainforest floor surface area, providing more nutrients for the tree. Other types of rainforest trees, such as mangroves, require stabilizing root structures in soggy soil. These trees are subject to flooding and tidal waves; In response to such conditions, mangrove trees often stick out their roots--like giant, thick needles--from the base of the trunk, digging them deeply in the ground and nearby landmasses. These "stilt or prop" root structures help anchor the tree under harsh weather conditions.
The majestic kapok tree is not only a visual giant in a rainforest's emergent layer, but a shelter to thousands of rainforest animals, such as birds, bromeliads and frogs. Kapok trees (also called ceiba trees) can grow to as tall as 300 feet in rainforest environments. These botanical giants dominate over plants and trees (sometimes by growing as much as 13 feet per year) and provide a sturdy trunk for climbing, sun-seeking rainforest plants and vines. Kapok trees have been discovered with diameters as thick as 10 feet. The kapok tree drops its leaves in the dry season and can flower bright white and pink blooms. The sturdy tree has a lightweight wood, often used by humans for artistic carvings or making small boats (such as a canoe). Oils derived from the kapok tree seeds are often made into cleansing oils.