The Amazon rainforest is one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world. This lush, tropical paradise contains thousands of plant species, some of which have only recently been discovered. Many of the plants are extremely useful for humans, including plants that have medicinal properties, plants that are used for food and plants that are used as building materials.
Orchids are some of the most beautiful and well-known plants in the rainforest. Popular with home gardeners everywhere, these exotic beauties are often cultivated as houseplants. There are more than 25,000 known species of orchids, which make them one of the most diverse plants in the world. Some types of orchids get their nutrients from the very humid air of the Amazon.
The Rubber Tree
Over 99 percent of the world's rubber comes from a tree in the Amazon called Hevea brasiliensis, one of the most important plants in the Amazon. This tree, which is more commonly known as the rubber tree, produces latex that can be harvested by tapping into its trunk. There are nine species of the tree, and all are fast growing. In the wild, the trees can get up to 122 feet, but they only grow half that tall on plantations.
The Patauá tree is a slow-growing type of palm tree that is found throughout the Amazon. Natives use the tree for many things, including using the palms for roofing, the roots for medicinal purposes, the fruit and oil (which is very high in protein) as a source of nutrition and the fibers in the palms for weaving.
The cacao plant is probably the most valuable in the Amazon due to its sheer economic importance. Without the cacao plant, there would be no chocolate in the world. This small evergreen plant produces large seed pods. Inside each seed pod are between 20 and 40 seeds. After the seeds are allowed to ferment, they are ground into paste or powder. In raw form, the ground seeds (which we know as chocolate or cocoa) is actually bitter, but when sugar is added the powder or paste becomes sweet.
Kapok trees are the giants of the Amazon rainforest and provide much of the canopy. They can grow upward of 200 feet tall, with trunks wider than 10 feet around. These trees have unique thorns that sometimes cover the branches as well as the trunk. Many local tribes consider the Kapok tree to be sacred because of its great size.