School of Life Sciences | Ask A Biologist

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Plants of the Rainforest

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  • Biodiversity: the variety of plants, animals, and all other life in an environment.
  • Photosynthesis: a set of chain reactions that convert light energy into chemical energy. Photosynthesis also produces energy-rich carbohydrates like starch. Photosynthesis occurs in the chloroplast of a plant cell... more
  • Toxin: a poisonous substance made by plants or animals. Snake and spider venom are a type of toxin... more

PhotosynthesisPowerful plants

Of all the Earth’s land biomes, rainforests change the most amount of energy coming from the sunlight into food (like sugars). We call this action photosynthesis.

After plants change sunlight energy into sugars, animals can get that energy by eating the leaves, fruits, or other parts of the plants. This can be good or bad for the plants, so over many, many years, plants have come up with ways to trick animals into eating certain plant parts while avoiding others.

 Tamarind fruitA Sweet Trick

Plants pack their fruits with sugar, making them a sweet and tempting treat for many animals. This is because fruits also hold the seeds of a plant. 

By hiding their seeds in delicious fruits, plants are tricking animals into eating them. That way, the animals spread (disperse) the seeds inside the fruits to other areas of the rainforest.




The Fight for Life

Madagascar periwinkleBut what about the parts of a plant that need to be protected and not eaten? To fight off animals like insects that try to eat their leaves and shoots, some plants make certain chemicals called toxins. These toxins taste bad or make animals sick, so animals will not eat those parts of the plant.

Plant Medicine

What is toxic to some can be helpful to others—humans have been able to use some of the chemicals found in tropical plants as medicines. This is just one of the many reasons why we should preserve the biodiversity, or diversity of life, that the rainforests hold.


Images via Wikimedia. Rafflesia image by Henrik Ishihara.

Rafflesia

The rainforest has some very unusual plants, like this Rafflesia. This plant parasite doesn't have roots of its own, but grows tissue in other plants to steal the nutrients it needs.

Desert to Rainforest
Teacher's Guide
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by volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteer page to get the process started.

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Rafflesia

The rainforest has some very unusual plants, like this Rafflesia. This plant parasite doesn't have roots of its own, but grows tissue in other plants to steal the nutrients it needs.

Desert to Rainforest
Teacher's Guide
Download as PDF or
Get MagCloud version for print or iPad

Share to Google Classroom

Be part of Ask A Biologist

by volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteer page to get the process started.