Tropical forests exist near the equator. From the Amazon rainforest in northern South America to the South Pacific, northern Australia, Africa and Southeast Asia, the number of tropical plants native to these areas comprises about half of all known plant species. The Amazon rainforest alone has 40,000 plant species. Palms, orchids, medicinal plants and many lesser-known food plants supply indigenous people and others in faraway places with food and products such as rubber.
The Amazon rainforest is home to the large rubber tree, which grows in the rainforest but has been cultivated since the early 20th century for its sap, which is processed into tires and other rubber products.
Many species of palms come from tropical forests. The Amazon is home to many palm trees, such as the peach palm, which produces a nutritious fruit and heart of palm, a culinary delicacy. Northern Brazil gives us the Babassu palm, which is an important tree to the people who live where it grows because of its fronds and wood that they use for building their homes and making baskets and floor mats. Palm oil is an important commodity for tropical forest dwellers---it comes from several species of palm, including the pataua palm of the Amazon area. The oil that is extracted from the pataua palm's fruit is high in protein and similar to olive oil.
Guarana, Acai and Other Medicinal Plants
Guarana, or Paullinia cupana, is a vine from Brazilian tropical forests that has become popular in the United States and other countries for its high caffeine content said to promote energy among those who take it. The acai berry comes from the Amazon and has a large concentration of antioxidants, making it popular among health enthusiasts, who believe it can help to prevent or cure certain diseases. Indigenous peoples of tropical forests around the world have relied on their native plants for medicine for many centuries.
Many smaller plants come from tropical forests around the world. Orchids come to mind when we think of tropical flowers---hundreds of species exist, from Brazil to Thailand. Other ornamentals that we grow in the U.S. as houseplants include philodendrons, schefflera, anthuriums, small palms like the areca, dieffenbachia and other flowering plants such as coleus and impatiens.
Underneath the giant trees that form the rainforest canopy, not much sunlight gets through to the forest floor. Mushrooms are common in these low-light areas, as are other types of lichens and fungi. The fallen branches and other plant parts on the forest floor provide a favorable environment for fungi, and the fungi help the plant parts to decompose.