Rainforest Learning Center
Tropical rainforests are the oldest, richest, and most complex ecosystems on Earth, and are home to half the world’s plant and animal species. When you smell the aromatic leaves, feel the humidity-softened air, and experience the collective breath of life, then you have truly understood the rainforest.
Rainforests differ from other ecosystems. The rainforest is a place where environmental influences have caused similar plant adaptations in species from different continents, enabling plants to survive in nutrient-poor soils. Woods, spices, nuts, fruits, and other human-use products come from rainforests. Its many layers of tree canopies provide a multitude of different homes for animals that may spend nearly all their lives in the tree tops. Rainforest inhabitants rely on one another for food and shelter.
There are over 100 different species of plants in the Rainforest Learning Center, including representatives from the tropics of the Americas, Africa, southeast Asia, Australia, and the Pacific islands. Some of these are plants of economic importance: coffee, chocolate, black pepper, allspice, papaya, pineapple. Some are serious pests outside their native habitat, such as water hyacinth, which clogs the rivers of Florida. Others are common houseplants. Many of these are either from tropical dry forests, or are epiphytes in the rainforest: Our houses are much drier than most tropical rainforests.
Rainforests don't form overnight, even in a greenhouse. As the Rainforest Learning Center develops, plants will be added, and others removed. Some of the taller trees will eventually grow to the peak of the greenhouse, and will either be cut back, or removed, to be replaced by younger ones. Over time, many of the plants will spread by seed and spore, and create still other habitats. Even though a greenhouse is not a natural community, the organisms within it interact.
The tropical rainforest is important to us all: it supplies the world with oxygen, retains carbon, and influences worldwide climate patterns. We can each help conserve these forests for future generations.