While many tourists travel to Peru and other countries in South America in the hope of seeing major Amazon fauna, it is the incredible variety of plant species that makes the Amazon basin so special.
The Earth’s rainforests only cover around six percent of the planet’s land surface, but these incomparably biodiverse ecosystems are home to two-thirds of the world’s plant life. The humidity, warmth and high annual average rainfall of tropical rainforests makes them uniquely diverse in terms of flora.
Rainforests are characterized by their dense tree growth. Tropical forests can contain as many as 100 trees species per square kilometer, while temperate forests farther north tend to be home to just three or four species. The tallest trees create a rainforest’s emergent layer, as they break through the rainforest canopy. These massive trees can grow up to 60 meters (200 feet) in height and have trunks up to 5 meters (16 feet) in diameter.
Canopy trees create the dense layer that forms the rainforest’s “ceiling”, usually between 18 meters (60 feet) and 24 meters (80 feet) above the ground. Well-known tropical rainforest trees used by traditional peoples and by our own modern world include cacao (Theobroma cacao), citrus (Citrus spp.) and cinchona trees (Cinchona pubescens, used to make quinine), and kapok (Ceiba pentandra, a victim of logging but regarded as a sacred tree by native cultures throughout the regions where it grows).
Thriving among their trees, rainforests are also home to more than 2500 species of vines. In fact, more than 90 percent of the world’s vine species are found in rainforests. Common vine species include the strangler fig (Ficus aurea), a parasitic vine with thick roots and dense foliage that eventually kills its host tree, before taking its place in the forest. Other vines include lianas. With their woody, thick stems, some species of liana are said to grow up to 3,000 feet long. Some rainforest vines even grow from the top down, descending through the forest understory before taking root in the ground.
The tropical rainforest canopy is also home to many species of bromeliads. The waxy foliage of these bowl-shaped plants gathers and stores water efficiently. Some species of bromeliad can contain several liters of water, making them the ideal host plants for species ranging from insects to frogs. Unlike those species of vines which exist as parasites, bromeliads do not harm their host trees.
Epiphytes grow in abundance in tropical rainforests. Also known as air plants, these remarkable plants have evolved so that they do not need to rely on the often nutrient-poor soils of the rainforest. Instead, epiphytes obtain nutrients and moisture from the air, and from forest debris. Epiphytes grow on trees or other large plants, taking the form of ferns, mosses, lichens and orchids. Like bromeliads, epiphytes attach themselves to a host plant merely for support. Some bromeliads and vines grow in the form of epiphytes.
At Tambopata Ecolodge, in the rainforests of southeastern Peru, we work to conserve one small corner of the Amazon basin, and to introduce the world’s travelers to our conservation model based on sustainable ecotourism. Our expert naturalist guides are skilled in revealing to our guests the enormous variety of tropical forest flora we help to protect.