The tall, lush evergreen forests envisioned by most when referring to tropical forests are lowland evergreen rain forests. These forests are characterized by canopies with multiple layers of vegetation and the presence of large canopy emergent trees. Lowland evergreen rain forests generally have very high species diversity, with over 1000 tree species per square kilometre found in the richest forests of Amazonia and southeast Asia. Canopy and emergent trees in lowland evergreen forests often have large spreading crowns with a radius of >20m at maturity, can grow to more than 1min girth, and commonly possess plank-like buttresses important in physical support.


Beneath the upper canopy layer are smaller understorey trees, treelets, and a layer of herbaceous ground vegetation. Cauliflory and ramiflory are especially common among understorey trees in lowland tropical rain forests. One also generally finds abundant lianas; woody climbers that germinate in the understorey, but possess climbing mechanisms (such as tendrils or hooks) that allow them to use free-standing trees as support structures. Lianas that reach the canopy thus remain anchored to the forest floor.

Also common are epiphytes; plants that live on other plants (most often trees), but which at no point in their life history are rooted in the ground. Orchids, ferns and bromeliads provide many examples of tropical epiphytes, which enhance tropical diversity immensely (epiphytes are thought to comprise 10% of all vascular plants). Another group of plants characteristic of tropical forests are hemi-epiphytes, which germinate in the canopy, as do epiphytes, but produce roots that grow down the trunk of the host tree to become rooted in the ground. The most important group of tropical hemi-epiphytes are figs (many species of Ficus), the fruits of which are an important resource for many vertebrate species.
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