Jungle Botany: A Beginner’s Guide

The rainforest is a treasure trove for plant lovers, whether you’re a newbie or you already have experience with jungle botany.

Your first step into a tropical forest can be a bit overwhelming. There is a staggering amount of diversity to take in. It’s also often hard to identify anything because many of the plants look almost identical without flowers or fruit. That’s why we’ve made this simple guide to help your plant search in the jungle!

 

What to bring:

1. Camera

No trip into the rainforest is complete without a solid camera. Aside from all the amazing animals you’ll want to take pictures of, you’ll have endless opportunities to capture brightly colored flowers and towering trees during your hikes. Make sure you have a camera that can capture micro and macro shots well. Most smartphone cameras these days will do the trick. There are plenty of articles online to give you tips on how to make your plant pictures stand out. And remember, PlantSnap can identify many rare, tropical species.

 

Peace lily flower on black background

 

2. Field Guide

Who doesn’t want to know more about the plants you’ll be seeing? Unfortunately, many guides are quite heavy and bulky. Large books can weigh you down, but there are many compact guides available through Chicago’s Field Museum that are free to print. Or you can download them onto a phone or computer!

3. Binoculars

Many plants that live in the canopy are nearly impossible to see with the naked eye. However, there are a couple ways to easily see all of the above-ground life. Binoculars may seem like a tool used mostly by birders, but they’re also a great tool for jungle botany! A good pair of “binocs” make it easy to see all of the diverse plant life that thrives in the canopy.

 

Costus spiral ginger

 

What to look for:

1. Color

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when looking at the sea of green that is the rainforest. Being able to identify many rainforest plants vegetatively (aka without fruit or flowers) can take years to master. Keep your eye out for flashes of color amongst the plants surrounding you. Before you know it, you’ll be as good as a pollinating insect or a hummingbird at finding flowers.

2. Fallen Fruits

Remember that there is a wealth of plant life above your head! Unfortunately, photographing and identifying the tall trees and other plants in the canopy is rather hard. Instead, look for fallen fruit and flowers on the forest floor. These often stand out amongst the brown leaf litter covering the forest floor. Just remember: don’t eat any tasty looking, sweet smelling fruit!

3. The Canopy

If you can, try to take a walk in the canopy. The rainforest canopy is an entirely different world that we’re still discovering a lot about. Having a “monkey’s eye view” will give you the most unique perspective of the rainforest, and an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up if you’re not afraid of heights! Many organizations and lodges have canopy walkways for thrill seekers.

 

rainforest jungle canopy

 

Beware, botanists!

Aside from potentially poisonous fruit, plants have developed all sorts of defenses to keep certain animals (like humans) from harming them. Many plants have spines, some are coated with irritating oils that can give a nasty rash, and some are even equipped with ants!

Hopefully, now you’re one step closer to being an expert on jungle botany. The mysteries of the rainforest wait for your arrival. If you think we missed something, let us know in the comments below!

 

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