Amazon Plants: cures and curiosities

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Malaria, one of the most lethal diseases in the tropics, can be addressed by no less than 41 different species of plants in the Brazilian Amazon in some capacity. (6) Of all types of organisms in the Amazon basin, the plants may be the most spectacular. There are over 80,000 plant taxa within the Amazon (1). Within one hectare, which is about 2.5 acres, species diversity can reach levels as high as 300 different plant species (1).

amazon yellow flowersIn a 0.25 km2 plot in Ecuador, equivalent to about 60 acres, approximately 1,104 different tree species were documented (2). This is nearly the amount that can be found throughout the temperate forests of the continents of Asia, Europe, and North America combined (1,166) (2,3). In tropical rainforests like the Amazon, trees can often make up only a fraction of total plant species as well, indicating a number of plant species so varied that it is nearly impossible to imagine.




Large tree amazonTrees in the Amazon come in many sizes and different shapes. The Kapok tree, Ceiba pentandra, is one of the largest trees in all of the Amazon. A tree with a wide distribution, the Kapok can also be found in tropical African rainforests, this tree species can reach up to 60 meters (nearly 200 feet) high. These trees, when in bloom, have been known to produce an estimated 650,000 flowers containing about 200 liters of nectar during a blooming period (4). The Kapok tree is visited by many different rainforest species including 8 different species of mammals4. One set of observations of the peak Kapok flowering time (dusk and evening) had flocks of 50-100 bats of particular species visiting and feeding among the flowers. Despite their grand size and ability to support a number of important rainforest species, the Kapok tree has been decimated in the Amazon at the expense of plywood manufacturing. In some areas of Peru, near Iquitos, these trees have been totally eliminated (5).



1.) Gentry AH (1988) Tree species richness of upper Amazonian forests. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 85, 156-159.
2.) Wright SJ (2002) Plant diversity in tropical forests: a review of mechanisms of species coexistence. Oecologia, 130,1-14.
3.) Latham RE, Ricklefs RE (1993) Continental comparisons of temperate-zone tree species diversity. In: Ricklefs RE, Schluter D, Species diversity in ecological communities. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. Pp 294-314.
4.) Gribel R, Gibbs PE, Queiroz AL (1999) Flowering Phenology and Pollination Biology of Ceiba pentandra in Central Amazonia. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 15 (3), 247-263.
5.) Gentry AH, Vasquez R (1988) Where have all the Ceibas Gone? A Case History of Mismanagement of a Tropical Forest Resource. Forest Ecology and Management, 23, 73-76.
6.) Brandao MGL, Grandi TSM, Rocha EMM, Sawyer DR, Krettli AU (1992) Survey of medicinal plants used as antimalarials in the Amazon. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 36, 175-182.
7.) Di Stasi LC, Oliveira GP, Carvalhaes MA, Queiroz-Junior M, Tien OS, Kakinami SH, Reis MS (2001) Medicinal plants popularly used in the Brazilian Tropical Atlantic Forest. Fitoterapia, 73, 69-91.


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