Daily encounter: Houseplants

Many houseplants grown in the UK originate in tropical rainforests where the average growing temperature is similar (from 18°C). The big difference is the size each group of plants grows.

Rainforest berries: Coffee

The first coffee was drunk over a thousand years ago by Arab traders. According to legend, it was discovered by an Ethiopian shepherd who saw his goats were unusually frisky after eating the caffeine-rich coffee berries.

The high life: Epiphytes

Epiphytes grow upon or attached to a living plant, often high up in rainforest trees where there is more light compared with lower levels. Epiphytes use the host plant for support, but produce their own energy from photosynthesis and obtain moisture and nutrients from the air.

Meet the family: Aroids

The Living Rainforest has an amazing collection of rare and unusual aroids (Araceae family). The collection was donated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew several years ago and since expanded to include hundreds of plants with extraordinary diversity.

Big business: Banana

Bananas are the fourth largest crop in the world after rice, wheat, and maize. The yellow desert banana is a major export for tropical countries and one of the best selling food products in the UK.

Super-sized: Giant taro

This extraordinary plant is a staple food for over three hundred million people worldwide. Just like our potato, the corm (a swollen stem) is peeled and boiled, and eaten as an important source of carbohydrate.

Sweet cure: Chocolate

While still best loved as a sweet confectionary, humans first used chocolate thousands of years ago as a medicine. Anxiety, fever, and fatigue were all treated by chocolate-sweetened remedies made by the Olmec, Mayan, and Aztec civilisations.

Regional medicine: Trumpet tree

The trumpet tree or embauba is widely used in traditional medicine throughout Central and South America. Virtually every part is used – bark, roots, sap, leaves and fruit – to treat a diversity of ailments. Each country has different uses for extracts of this plant, such as treatment for bronchitis and snakebites in Trinidad and a cure for diabetes and hypertension in Guatemala.

Anti-cancer: Rosy periwinkle

This pretty plant from Madagascar gives us two very important cancer-fighting medicines: vinblastine and vincristine. Vinblastine has helped increase the chance of surviving childhood leukaemia from 10% to 95%, while vincristine is used to treat Hodgkins’ Disease.

Poisonous silence: the dumb cane

Sap from the dumb cane plant that gets into a human mouth will make the tongue swell, causing speechlessness in adults and sometimes killing children.

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