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March 2014

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From North to South, From East to West  - Ecological Zoning Monsoons from 23.5 latitude--Tropical Broad-leaved Forests

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The extensive buttress roots of the looking-glass mangrove (Heritiera littoralis Dryand) / Kenting NationalPark Headquarters
The extensive buttress roots of the looking-glass mangrove (Heritiera littoralis Dryand) / Kenting National Park Headquarters

Unique physiological adaptations of plants forming thetropical wonderland

Tropical plants have developed many unique physiological adaptations andinter-species interactions in response to their environment to create a dreamlike world in the forests. Some tropical plants are able to adapt toa wide range of climes, and may have evolved into variant in Taiwan. So they can adapt both of tropical and subtropical climate. If we are to observe carefully, we would be able to notice characteristics of tropical plants around us.

Given that humidity and temperature are high al l -year round, many tropical plant species have tree trunks that are able to develop intoother plant structures directly. Themost interesting examples would be the variegated fig (Ficus variegate Blume var. garciae (Elmer) Corner)and the commonly known jackfruit(Artocarpus heterophyllus ) and Durian (Durio zibethinus Murray), a horticultural tree that bears large fruits directly from its trunks. The sechar acteristics set these plants apart from others that bear fruits at the tree top.

Figs here grow aerial roots like an old man's beard. These are powerful adaptations for the humid climate. It not only helps the plant absorb moisture directly from the air, the seaerial roots can also take in nutrient swhen it comes in contact with the ground and can even become supporting roots. The aerial roots effectively allow the tree to grow numerous trunks at once and help them enlarge their canopy. These characteristics are observed in the commonly seen Chinese Banyan(Ficus microcarpa L. f.) and Whitebarkfig (Ficus benjamina L.).

Another unique form of roots would be the buttress root. The base ofthe tree trunk would spread out horizontally while the roots extend upwards to form board-like structures.The buttress has both structural an dphysiological functions. Buttresses help to provide mechanical support to the tree when the ground surface is flooded and turns soft, preventing the tree from toppling over or suffocating from lack of oxygen. The famous looking-glass man grove (Heritieralittoralis Dryand) is a classic example.

There are, in fact, many other tropical plants in Taiwan capable of growing buttresses that perform important roles culturally and in our daily lives, such as the island lychee(Pometia pinnata Forst), gutta-percha(Palaquium formosanum Hayata) and Green Island Fig (Ficus pubinervis Blume) of Lanyu. These trees provide materials necessary for constructing houses or boats. Senior Tao tribesmen would lead youths qualified forventuring in the mountains to selecta tree of life. These trees must becultivated with a humble heart so that the tree would harbor a gentle soul and help protect the tribesmenon land and sea from the ravages of storms.

In order to obtain sunlight in the dense can opy and survive in the forest, seeds can also germinate without touching the ground. Manyplants could grow on trees and even buildings as epiphytes. Upon germination, the seedling’s rootswould grow downwards rapidly in order to reach the soil and absor bnutrients necessary for sustaining growth. The plant would slowly bind the parent tree. As the trunkof the parent tree thickens, it would be pressed against the developing seedling. The force would gradually increase to the point that it severs the phloem, preventing nutrients made in the branches from reaching the roots. The parent plant is effectively strangled and quickly dies. The new plant would replace the parent tree and enjoy the soil and sunlight necessary for survival. This process is literally a brutal drama of struggle for dominance. But in this ever-changing environment, those that wish to livemust come up with survival strategies.

A variegated fig (Ficus variegata Blume var.garciae (Elmer) Corner) bearing a large numberof fruits / Kuoh-Cheng Yang
A variegated fig (Ficus variegata Blume var.garciae (Elmer) Corner) bearing a large numberof fruits / Kuoh Cheng Yang
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