Endangered Rain Forest Plants

Endangered Rain Forest Animals           Endangered Rain Forest Plants
 

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An endangered species of Pink orchid from Madagascar. Photograph by Thomas Elmqvist

The rain forests of the world are estimated by scientists to contain 80% of the green flowering plants in existence and it is estimated that 2.5 acres of tropical rainforest may contain more than 750 types of trees and 1500 species of higher plants. With the loss of each acre of rainforest to farming, logging or other forms of development, hundreds of species disappear forever. The number of endangered rain forest plants is vast and rather than attempt to list every known species of plant that is endangered only two of the better known ones will be presented here. A great resource on this subject is the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. This list is the authority and contains over 15,500 species worldwide in every habitat that face extinction, and grows daily.

Photograph by Greg Allikas www.orchidworks.comOrchids:  There are over 25,000 different types of orchids, and many are them are threatened, endangered or extinct. Habitat destruction and poaching by orchid smugglers are the two major threats. Described by one botanist as "living jewels", orchids, because of their exotic beauty, have long been sought after by collectors and growers. Perennial plants that have adapted to almost every environment on earth, the family exhibits extraordinary diversity. Besides the 25,000 or more species that exist in the wild, it is estimated that there are 60,000 hybrid species, unknown in the wild, that have been developed by orchid growers. Orchids are the largest flowering plant family in the world.

Orchids range in size from microscopic to several feet tall and the bloom can be larger than a human hand. The flower petals are typically an elaborate composition and the blooms exhibit a wide range of colors. Orchids are found world wide but the majority of species are found in the tropics. Most internationally traded orchids come from the tropical regions of Asia and South America, including India, Thailand, China, Singapore, Madagascar, Brazil and Guatemala.

A tragic phase in the history of orchids was during the 1800's, when many European aristocrats began collecting them. At that time, there were no laws protecting orchids and indiscrimate collecting was devastating to whole populations. Some of the early collectors were known to find pick every specimen of a new variety that they found in a region and then burn the land so as to corner the market for profit. Regulations instituted in the 1960's and 70's now protect endangered species of orchids. Primary protection comes from the 1973 CITES Convention On International Trade In Endangered Wild Flora And Fauna treaty, signed by over 120 countries. This website is an excellent resource on endangered rainforest plants.

CITIES List of Endangered Orchids
Orchid Photos

 

Rafflesia Flower
This incredible flower, found primarily in the shady lowland tropical forests of Indonesia, has by far the largest bloom of any flower and is one of the world's rarest and most endangered plants. Almost one meter wide and weighing over 6 pounds, it is a fleshy, malodorous plant, I have highlighted here since it is a symbol for all other endangered rainforest plants.

The flower is an excellent example of how fragile some components of the tropical forest are, for its very survival is totally dependent on one particular vine called Tetrastigma, related to the grapevine. The Rafflesia is a disembodied flower. A rootless, leafless and stemless parasite, it drains nourishment and gains physical support from its host vine. Its only body outside the flower consists of strands of fungus-like tissue that grow inside the Tetrastigma vine. It first manifests itself as a tiny bud on the vine's roots or stem. But over a period of 12 months, it swells to a cabbage-like head that bursts around midnight under the cover of a rainy night to reveal this startling, lurid-red flower.

Inside the cauldron-like cup is a spiked disk. And attached to its underside are either stigmas or stamens, depending upon whether the plant is male or female. By now you've probably noticed the characteristic rotting-meat smell that gives the plant its local name: "corpse flower." The odor attracts carrion-scavenging flies and beetles into the plant to pollinate it. But the full-grown flower lasts only about a week before it dies, so seeing one up close like this is lucky indeed.

Rafflesia Flower Article