The Amazon River basin is the largest collection of freshwater in the world. Heavy persistent rains and warm tropical temperatures have created one of the most diverse ecological areas on Earth. These conditions allow many plants to grow all year, and flowering and fruiting happens at almost any time. Because there is no winter in the Amazon rain forest, most plants are perennials and do not die after they produce seeds. The seasons are wet and dry, rather than the four seasons that exist in northern and southern latitudes.
When these showy Amazon perennial plants were first described in England in 1819, they started an orchid fever similar to the California gold rush and the Dutch tulip mania. From the time William Cattley, for whom the genus is named after, bloomed the first plant in an English greenhouse, and until now, these orchids remain some of the most popular, widely grown and hybridized.
Cattleya orchids are epiphytes, which means they grow attached to other living plants, but are not parasitic. They live in the tree canopies where they receive almost full sun and a constant warm and humid tropical breeze. The plants are about 1 to 2 feet tall and form canes called pseudobulbs. They produce large flowers, around 7 inches in diameter, and some are highly fragrant.
Cattleyas like to be grown in orchid bark potting mix in bright shade. Night temperatures should range from 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and daytime should be between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Humidity should be constant in the 50 to 60 percent range. Allow the cattleyas to almost dry out between watering.
The cacao plant (scientific name Theobroma cacao) is the source of chocolate. It is native to the Amazon basin and was used by the Aztec and Inca peoples before it was introduced to the early Spanish explorers. Cacao is a 40-foot-tall perennial rain forest tree that only grows in moist tropical areas and is not drought-tolerant. Chocolate comes from the dried and roasted nuts of the tree.
Cacao can be grown from seeds or cuttings. It likes a well-draining soil that remains moist. High levels of organic matter and high fertility levels help this plant thrive, but it will survive in lesser soils. Young trees need to be protected from direct sun, and they are usually planted next to banana trees or other taller plants as a secondary crop.
The wild avocado (scientific name Persea americana) was growing in the Amazon, and the fruit was being eaten by indigenous people before the earliest Europeans arrived. It can potentially be a tall tree at 60 feet, but is usually about 30 feet tall. Old trees can have a trunk that is more than 24 inches in diameter. The leaves are large at up to 16 inches long, oval-shaped and glossy green on top. Most people are familiar with the fruit of the avocado. Its tasty flesh surrounds a hard seed.
Avocados are grown pantropically and in subtropical areas in USDA zone 9B and above. It is a fast-growing perennial, and it tolerates most well-drained soils. It prefers to stay evenly moist. Avocados need pruning to develop a strong branch structure to prevent wind damage and breaking from the weight of the tree.