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Pineapples aren’t the only bromeliads in the rainforest …
The Living Rainforest is blazing with colour, thanks in no small part to a host of bromeliads with brightly coloured flower spikes.
Some bromeliads are referred to as urn plants due to a capacity to collect and store rainwater at the base of their leaves. These spaces or ‘tanks’ provide a ready habitat for animals including frogs, worms, larvae, salamanders and even small crabs. Some tree frogs and other animals only live in bromeliads.
Bromeliads are specially adapted to harsh conditions including low nutrient levels, torrential rain and occasional droughts.
The ability of about half the species to live ‘epiphytically’ – atop tree branches in the canopy – allows them to obtain more sunlight than at the forest floor. Despite the sometimes harsh conditions, epiphytes are thought to account for up to 30% of the plant diversity in South America’s tropical rainforests.
The water tanks also allow tree frogs to lay their eggs in what are in effect high-rise swimming pools. Meanwhile, debris which collects inside the tanks – such as rotting leaves, insects and even small animals – acts as a secondary source of nutrients for the plant.
Many species only absorb carbon dioxide at night in order to reduce moisture loss when the pores of their leaves open.
Bromeliads are related to the grass family but they are not found in all rainforests. Virtually all originate in the Americas, with most species found in the ‘lost world’ environment of the Guiana Highlands. Only one species (Pitcairnia feliciana) is West African – and thought to have originated through seed dispersal across the Atlantic Ocean!
The pineapple may be the most famous bromeliad but it is also quite unusual. It is terrestrial and produces the only known edible fruit of over 3000 species. Aside from being delicious, the pineapple produces an enzyme which aids digestion.
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