Skip to content

What is a Rainforest?

The delineation of rainforest from other plant communities is made on the climatic conditions as well as the plants that are present and their unique characteristics. 

Rainforest ecosystems are typically defined as evergreen or semideciduous plant communities with a high degree of canopy closer during the wet season, multiple strata (groups of vegetation that grow to approximately the same height), and contain specific unique features such as vines, lianas, buttress roots and drip tips which can be identified on their plants. 

Stratification within a rainforest canopy showing the lower understory, the middle layer of the canopy and the tallest or emergent trees. Adapted from Richards (1996) pp 47.

Rainforest can be further subdivided on any number of features, but quite often on climatic factors. We have outlined three main groups consisting of moist rainforest, dry rainforest and temperate rainforest in the subsequent sections. 

Because there are many different definitions of rainforest, not all ecosystems that are considered rainforest by some people are agreed upon by others. For example, there are ecosystems on the north coast of northern America that are considered temperate rainforest. Also, Australia has areas of both moist and dry rainforest along the eastern and northern coasts. A more detailed map of rainforest distribution in Australia can be found here.
  1. Richards, P (1996) The Tropical Rain Forest: An Ecological Study. (2nd) Cambridge University Press, UK