The world's tropical regions are rich in plant life, and over 40,000 plants live in the Amazon's rainforest. The year-round warm, humid temperatures make these areas ideal for plant life. From towering palms, to tiny, fragile orchids, the tropics provide us with plants for food, shelter, medicine and beauty. As a result, tropical plants have found their way into homes and offices around the world.
The tropics are home to numerous palm species. From the common coconut palm, which has spread to most tropical areas, to the date palms, palm trees are important for their food value (including the culinary delicacy "hearts of palm"), fiber, lumber and oil. Some of the valuable and common palm trees of the tropics include Pejibaye palm, African oil palm, jelly palm, Chilean wine palm, peach palm, Senegal date palm, pataua palm, saw palmetto, betel nut and the Amazonian starnut palm. Palms in the genus Elaeis give us palm oil and dates come from several species of palms in the Phoenix genus.
The rubber tree, which is native to Brazil, is the source of all the world's rubber. It is considered one of the most useful plants in existence. Guarana is a vine from Brazil that indigenous peoples have used for centuries for its energy-giving caffeine content. The acai berry is from a tropical palm and is popular among health enthusiasts for its reported high anti-oxidant effects.
The orchid plant family is the largest plant family, with over 30,000 species, many of which come from tropical areas. Some of the categories of orchids native to tropical areas include Cattleya, Phalaenopsis, Dendrobium, Vanda, Oncidium, Chysis, Miltonopsis and Gongora.
Many tropical plants are well adapted to growing indoors. The areca palm is a common houseplant, and is one of the best plants for putting oxygen into indoor environments. Other tropical plants favored for indoor use include bromeliads, ficus, schefflera, philodendron, coleus, anthurium, alocasia, along with epiphytes such as tillandsia and caladium.
Little-Known Tropical Plants
The rainforest floor is home to many lichens, fungi and mushrooms because it is too dark in many places to support plant life that requires sunlight for photosynthesis. These plants help fallen plant material from the large canopy trees to decompose and provide habitats for numerous animals, such as the anteater, and many insect species.