Amazonia Plant Species Highlights
Many of the trees and plants found in the Amazon and other rainforests are used by people around the world for food, medicine, cosmetics, furniture, shelter, crafts, and more.
Cocoa - Theobroma cacao
The source of cocoa, a major ingredient in chocolate. The
seeds must be processed to remove the tannin that protect
the plant from insects.
Avocado - Persea americana
Not only does its fruit contain more protein than any other,
its seeds are used to produce an indelible dye and, when
powdered, can be used to poison rats.
Kapok or silkcotton tree - Ceiba pentandra
The pods of this tree are broken open to reveal long stiff
threads known for their bouyancy. The fibers are used in
life preservers, pillows, and even surgery.
Passionflowers - Passiflora
caerulea, P. edulis, P. vitifolia
Not known for any sexual enhancement powers, this plant gets
its name from the shape of its stigma which looks like
a cross. Its leaves are favored by the caterpillars of
many tropical butterflies.
Chicle Tree - Manilkara zapota
Chiclets, anyone? Chicle is the chief ingredient in chewing
gum. Chicleros or chicle tappers gather latex from the
trees once every two or three years.
Mahogany - Swietenia mahagoni
This tree is prized for its fine hardwood which makes lovely
furniture. The penalty for such beauty if that many of
the largest trees have been wiped out by commercial loggers.
Dieffenbachia - Dieffenbachia barraquiniana
Tub leaves of this common tree contain calcium oxylate which
can cause severe skin irritation.
Vanilla vine - Vanilla planifolia
Vanilla is the only orchid that produces a food item prized
by humans. Grown on plantations, vanilla requires hand-pollination
to produce the six-inch long pods from which seeds are taken
to produce vanilla extract.
Guava tree - Psidium guajava
The source of guava fruit often made into jelly, this fruit
is a better source of vitamin C than citrus fruits.
Sweet potato vine - Ipomoea batatas
Not to be confused with the unrelated African species or
yam, the sweet potato is now grown throughout the southern
U.S. and is used in many tasty recipes.
Balsa tree - Ochroma pyramidale
This is the world's lightest wood, making it a fine candidate
for the construction of model airplanes and boats.
Cashew tree - Anacardium occidentalis
Everyone is aware of the cashew nut but few realize that
it naturally comes wrapped inside a juicy apple-like fruit.
However, it's probably more important to know that the
outside shell is poisonous.
Annatto - Bixa orellana
Lipstick may rely on annatto for its red color but native
South Americans have used the seeds of this shrub at the
source of red body paints for centuries.
Papaya - Carica papaya
Eaten with lime, papaya makes a great treat. The fruit is
also the source of the enzyme papayin which is used at
a meat tenderizer don't let looks fool you, the papaya
is not a tree, but a short-lived bush.
Sandbox tree - Hura crepitans
The caustic sap from this tree is used by fishermen to poison
Rubber tree- Hevea brasiliensis
No other tropical tree has been so widely dispersed by human
as the rubber tree. Amazonian rubber trees, with nuts the
size of ping-pong balls, were introduced to huge Asian
plantations by European colonial powers.