Fascinating flora and fauna that live around a tree buttress of an Indian rainforest

Explore life around the buttress roots of trees in the rainforest understorey through a painting

Around a tree buttress by Sartaj Ghuman for Nature Conservation FoundationNature Conservation Foundation

This story was conceived, conceptualised and implemented by NCF scientists TR Shankar Raman and Divya Mudappa, along with Sartaj Ghuman who was the resident artist of the programme in 2018. The painting showcases the life around the buttress of a tree in the rainforests of the Anamalai Hills.

Tree Buttress
Large rainforest trees often have buttresses that provide additional support. Around the buttresses in the forest understorey, many plants and animals flourish.

Lichens are fungi living with algae or cyanobacteria in a mutually beneficial relationship. They are tolerant of very dry conditions but revive with rain and moisture within minutes.

Lichens come in various forms; this one looks like white crinkly leaves.

Mosses appear as green turf in wet places. They hold copious amounts of water and dissolved nutrients. Epiphytes like orchids often take root among mosses.

The fruiting bodies of mosses rise off the surface, with a little bulb at the end.

Orchids grow on the ground or as epiphytes—plants that grow taking the support of other plants—even high on tree trunks and branches.
Here is the Purple Orchid Calanthae sylvatica.

The bright yellow flowers here belong to an orchid called Seidenfadeniella filiformis.

.. and here is yet another orchid, with dull yellow flowers, Sirhookeria latifolia.

The droopy white flowers here belong to an orchid called Dendrobium.

Let's take a closer look

Little Spiderhunters eat insects and sip nectar from flowers, sometimes coming down to the ground when wild ginger flowers are in bloom.
Their scientific name describes them perfectly: Arachnothera longirostra, literally 'long-billed spider-hunter'.

What grows closer to the ground?

Wild gingers have large leaves to exploit the scant light in the rainforest understorey. They store food in underground stems called rhizomes. The flowers and conical fruits are brightly coloured.
The red bulbs here belong to Zingiber zerumbet.

Wild turmeric have large leaves to exploit the scant light in the rainforest understorey. They store food in underground stems called rhizomes. The flowers and conical fruits are brightly coloured. as in this Curcuma species.

Christisonia tubulosa flowers emerge from the ground. These are leafless plants that are parasites tapping into the roots of other plants for sustenance.

Ferns have feathery leaves called fronds. They grow on wet mud banks, trees, rocks, streams, and roadsides. Ferns come in different sizes, from tiny plants to tree ferns ten meters tall.

The fronds of ferns come in different shapes and sizes, falling like green curtains along the forest slopes.

Gliding frogs live in the tree canopy, their blotchy skin blending with the tree trunk. Using their webbed feet like parachutes they glide through the air.
This is the Kalakad Gliding Frog Rhacophorus calcadensis.

Nilgiri forest lizard, endemic to the Western Ghats, is colourful yet camouflaged among plants. These arboreal reptiles hunt insects on plants but descend to the ground to lay their eggs in soil.
Scientific name: Calotes nemoricola.

Medinilla beddomei is an epiphytic climber clinging to tree trunks. The plants have small, 3-nerved, rounded and succulent leaves borne in opposite pairs, and small white flowers.

Lianas are woody climbers that ascend trees towards the canopy and abundant light.

One of the wild balsams, Impatiens maculata is a gregarious plant growing along streams and swamps. They mostly flower during the rains, brightening the forest floor.

Credits: Story

For information about our work, please visit our Western Ghats programme page.

Text: Divya Mudappa and TR Shankar Raman
Artwork: Sartaj Ghuman

Donate to one of our research programmes to aid wildlife research and conservation. Visit: https://www.ncf-india.org/donate

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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