Planet Earth has rainforest environments in all of its tropical regions. From the well-known Amazon rainforest to lesser-known forests in Australia, Hawaii and Africa, these equatorial areas are struggling for survival because of logging, oil exploration, large-scale cattle ranching, farming and the building of roads and towns that support these activities. Although rainforests cover only 6 percent of the earth, they contain more than half of all plant and animal species.
Palm trees include hundreds of species---many originated in rainforests. Included are the peach palm, which is from the Amazon rainforest and yields a useful fruit and "heart of palm" food. The pataua palm is also from the Amazon---it is useful for its protein-rich oil, which is similar to olive oil. It also provides fiber for building and weaving into clothing. The Astrocaryum palms are an important source of fiber as well as edible oil and heart of palm. The Babassu palm comes from northern Brazil and is known as the "tree of life" because its leaves give local people thatch for their roofs and woven mats and they use this palm's stems for house building timbers. Its fruit provides products such as fertilizer, alcohol tar, edible oil, flour and charcoal.
Self sufficiency is more than a trend to the people of the rainforest. They have always had to depend on the forest for their needs, including medicines. Two Amazonian plants that have gained popularity in the Western world are the acai berry and guarana. The acai berry is the fruit of a palm tree that contains high quantities of antioxidants, believed to be important in the prevention and treatment of many diseases. Guarana is a vine from Amazonia whose caffeine-laden fruit has been used by indigenous people in a similar manner to coffee or tea, to boost their energy.
All of the world's vehicles ride on tires made of rubber. The rubber tree is native to the Amazon rainforest and is one of the most useful tropical plants. Since the early 20th century, rubber trees have been raised in plantations, so the wear and tear on the forest and these trees is less than it would be if people in other countries needed to rely on wild trees for their rubber.
Many plants we use as houseplants in the industrialized world have origins in the rainforests. From the common split-leaf philodendron to coleus, impatiens, small varieties of palms such as the areca, orchid cacti, other epiphytes, many species of orchids, anthuriums and many more are valuable additions to indoor plantscapes in homes and office buildings, where they contribute to the air quality by emitting oxygen.
Mushrooms and Fungi
The floors of the rainforests are typically very dark places where few plants can grow under the canopy of the large trees. However, mushrooms and other types of fungi that don't need the sun to produce chlorophyll grow in abundance at the bottom layer of the rainforests. They provide nutrients to the larger plants and help decaying plant material on the floor to break down into the rich humus those plants need in order to live.