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What is a rainforest?

Rainforests are Earth's oldest living ecosystems, with some at least 70 million years old! Tropical rainforests are found in warm places, and are full of tall trees and leafy plants. It’s called ‘rainforest’ because it also gets a lot of rain every year, helping all the plants grow.

Because rainforests are warm, wet and dense, they are full of life - millions of different kinds of plants and animals live there. Today we’ll learn about the layers of the rainforest and get to meet some of its residents along the way.

Rainforests have an annual rainfall greater than two meters. 


What does tropical mean?

A tropical country has very hot, often very wet weather. The countries found round the equator are in the hottest part of the world. About a tenth of the world’s land is covered by tropical rainforests.


Tropical rainforests are found near the equator and have an average daily temperature of 28°C. The hot, humid atmosphere creates a unique ecosystem full of biodiversity. 

What is the scientific word for an animal’s home?

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Tropical rainforests only
cover a tenth of the land on Earth, but are home to half the world’s living things.  

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The trees in a rainforest are extremely large, and many grow much taller than any trees found in Britain.  


The tropical rainforest is made up of four layers. We are going to look at each of these layers and learn a bit about them. 

The Forest Floor

The Forest Floor

Let’s take a walk through the bottom layer - the Forest Floor.  It is very dark here as the trees are like a big umbrella above, shading the forest floor. Only about 2% of the sunlight can get through.  


There are not very many plants because it is so dark. Plants need light to grow and the very dark conditions mean that very few plants get enough light to grow. Even though half of all the different kinds of animals in the world live in tropical rainforests, most of them don’t live on the forest floor. 

How many seasons do you get in a tropical rainforest?

The tallest tree in the Amazon is the Sumaumeira.

The Understory

Now we’re in The Understory. Sometimes it is called the fern layer. Ferns are plants which can grow in fairly dark conditions, so that makes them suited to live in the dark understory.


The understory is between 3 and 30 meters above the ground.  


The Canopy

The canopy is made up of the branches of trees and is where the leaves, flowers, and fruit are found. It is a huge structure; the trees can be between 40 and 60 meters high. 

It is hot and sunny in the canopy.  This is where most of the rainforest’s smaller plants can be found.


The Emergent Layer

If you could fly above the rainforest it would look like a sea of green treetops and every so often there would be a taller, giant tree emerging above the canopy.


These trees can be 70 meters high. They are in danger of being blown over when there are tropical storms.

Human Residents

People have lived in the rainforest for thousands of years. They make their living from it and they know how to look after it and preserve it. If the rainforest is chopped down and destroyed, they will lose their home. 


We get fruit, nuts, spices, and medicine from plants and animals, wood for furniture, oxygen, chewing gum, products which make varnish, soap and rubber. Tea, coffee and chocolate all originally came from rainforest plants!


Rainforests are very important places, but sadly they are being cut down and cleared. After the trees have been cut down the forest is gone forever. Many living things are becoming extinct as their habitat is destroyed. 


The world’s tropical rainforests are some of the most important parts of the planet. They are home to countless millions of plants and animals. We have seen how they are being threatened with destruction.