More than 60 percent of the plant species on the planet grow in rainforests. These rainforests are responsible for providing most of the world's oxygen supply. We depend on rainforest plants for many of the fruits, foods, spices, essential oils, fibers and wood products used in industry and medicine. Rainforests are located in the Americas, Africa, Indo-Malaysia and the Australasian regions of the world. Although each region provides specific plants, many are grown across several regions where similar growing conditions exist.
The rubber tree grows in other rainforests but is native to the Brazilian Amazon. Cacao, used by ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations, has long been cultivated in the Andes region of South America and Central America. It is the main ingredient in making chocolate and is being cultivated in other rainforest areas today. Vanilla, a member of the orchid family, is native to Mexico, in Central America. Cassava, a member of the poinsettia family, is widely used as a starch. Allspice, often thought to be a combination of spices, is a single plant that contains multiple spice flavors.
Ebony, used primarily for its hard wood, is native to West Africa. It also bears a fruit similar to the persimmon. Cola, a relative of the cacao plant, is a popular drink flavoring. Cola is native to West Africa. Bamboo, grown in many rainforests, also has varieties native to Africa. Coconut trees are common along the east coast of Africa. Coffee and castor bean plants are both native to Northeast Africa. The Rosy Periwinkle plant, an important medicinal plant, is also native to this rainforest region.
Rattan, a popular material used for furniture and basket making, is a climbing palm native to this region. Black pepper and ginger are popular spices native to southern Asia. Jackfruit, a member of the Mulberry family, is native to the region, though it has become available in other tropical areas. Weighing up to 100 pounds each, its taste resembles pineapple and bananas. Bamboo, a very strong grass, has long been a source of food and construction material in this and other rainforest regions. Bananas also grow in this region.
Native plants of Australasia include bananas and plantains. Although these plants are related, plantain is used as a starch and banana as a fruit. They do not actually grow on trees, which have woody stems, but are the largest herbaceous plant in the world. Sugar cane is also native to New Guinea and is the source of processed sugar. Nutmeg and mace, though both part of the same fruit, are considered two different spices. The nutmeg plant is native to the Spice Islands. Bamboo is the largest grass in the world and is a food source as well as a construction material.
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