Tropical rainforests breed trees, just one of a mecca of other bio-life forms that share in such an ecosystem. Tropical trees thrive in warm and uniformed temperatures. It’s got to be wet. This wet climate allows for numerous trees, some gigantic in stature, girth and height, with canopies several hundred feet skyward from the forest floor. The forest floor, too, is a wetland and the root structure beneath ground level also has a special strength, one fostered from living in such a warm, wet climate.
The diversity within these ecosystems is immense, over 100,000 species, or approximately 40% of the world’s angiosperm flora. A large number of tree species thrive here as well, nearly 100 species of tree per each ½ acre of land.
Amid all this tree growth comes a battle for sunlight. The trees spawn upward and outward, craning to reach the most sunlight. To do this, they need immense root structures to support its girth and gigantic proportions. The root structures need to support the rapidly growing and flexible stem structures and supply the branches and leaves with sufficient water supply. These trees are the true organic muscles of the sky.
For example, 90% of all lianas, trees of the canopy that are confined to the tropics due to the difficult nature of transporting enough water to nourish this flourishing fauna.
A period of dryness in a tropical climate–which isn’t often–is known as resist desiccation. Many ferns can tolerate desiccation. They do so by storing water in the intricate, hearty root structures. Succulent leaves, such as orchids, also team up with the root systems water sourcing system. Leaf tubers of tropical trees work as water reservoirs.
The velamen of the aerial roots developed in the root structure to guarantee quick water uptake-known as Orchiadaceae-especially at the canopy level. Many of the leaves also formed funnels which act as water absorbing scales, known as Bromeliaceae.
Other tropical tree root structures are more sensitive to the water-feeding structure. These tropical trees build what are called “trash baskets.” The trash baskets take soil from litter on the ground, using feeding roots that spider their way back into the inner-structure of the tree.
Stranglers are tropical trees that begin as epiphytes. They grow roots down the host tree. Once the roots reach forest floor level, they discharge elongates. Here, the root systems thicken and unite. This union, as strange as the strangler seems, forms a strangulation of the host through the actual root stem. It’s an ironic, yet organically functioning system whereby the roots that supply water and life to the tree also go through a stage of strangulating the host cell. The palms that form without any secondary growth are immune to this strangulation. However, if the canopy level becomes too-layered with the strangler, it can die.
Hemi-epiphytes are tropical trees that germinate on the ground level. They develop into root climbers, growing up as lianas. Eventually the bottom dies and the tree becomes an epiphyte.
The overall development of root structures of tropical trees is vital to survival in rainforests. Without a systematic root system, these immensely beautiful trees could not survive. As of today, they are down to roughly 3% of usable earthen floor. Can humankind and rainforests co-exist?