Neotropical forests are staggeringly diverse. They may contain almost three times as many plant species as comparable ecosystems in Africa and Australasia. Some of the most varied and unique are South America's rainforests, which range from the famous Amazon--the largest rainforest in the world--to temperate jungles in southern portions of the continent. Here, the plants are not only many in type; a high proportion are found nowhere else on earth.
The ivory-nut palm, named for its distinct and extremely durable seed, grows in the mesic forests of coastal Ecuador. The nuts have long been valued for their white hue and hardness; indeed, they were once used to make buttons.
This conifer--native to the temperate rain forests of southern Chile and Argentina--is one of the largest and longest-lived tree species in the world. Exceptional specimens may reach heights of over 180 feet and span more than seven feet in diameter. A Chilean alerce examined in 1993 was estimated to be 3,622 years old. Its wood, bark and resin are commercially valuable.
This denizen of the highly-diverse moist forests of Brazil's Atlantic coast is one of the most commercially desirable trees in the world. As a result, it has become much reduced in range. Among its other uses, Brazilian rosewood has been historically valued by instrument-makers. They used it in the production of high-class pianos, guitars and xylophones.
Diversity of Non-Tree Species
Most South American rainforests support a plethora of epiphytes ("air plants"), vines and herbs. Indeed, in the continent's lowland moist forests--the richest in the neotropics--only a quarter of the plant species may be comprised of trees.