Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest Tours and Cruises

Flora in the Amazon Rainforest


Identifying plants and trees in the rainforest is a job fit for generations upon generations of botanists. They have done an amazing job of classifying as many as 4,000 species of vascular plants, but there is probably much more. In any given hectare of forest, over 650 trees can be found. That is more than the entire United States of America. The amazing variety says a lot about how different tropical rainforests are from other kinds of forests in the world. Populations of different things are smaller, while in other types of forests, for example in Europe or the United States, populations of the same things are larger, so to speak.

The most common types of vegetation found in the Ecuadorian rainforest terra-firm, which consists of hilly forests that are never flooded by rainfall or by the water level of the rivers.  The soil is red or yellow clay.  The average height of the forest is from 25 to 30m, with some trees climbing to over 50m high, with a dense undergrowth covered in vines and epiphytes.  This forest formation shelters a great diversity of plants, especially tall trees.  In the Yasuni National Park for example a team of botanists recorded 650 tree species in one hectare.  Some of the most common terra-firm tree species are (1) Chambira palm (Astrocaryum chambira) its fibres are used to make hammocks and “shigra” bags.  (2)  a tree of the mimosa family (Parkia multijuga), which is known as the sleeper, as its feather-shaped leaves close when touched, (3) a non-edible Cacao species Theobroma suincanun and (4) the enormous emergent trees known as Cedrelinga catenaeformis. Some of the Napo indigenous groups call this type of forest, “Urcu”, which means “Hill” in their native Quichua.  

Then there are flood plains located close to the whitewater rivers, known as varzea, or the blackwater lakes such as the Lagartococha or Cuyabeno (named “igapos”).  The soil close to whitewater rivers is muddy, sandy, rich in nutrients and appropriate for small-scale farming.  The forest known locally as “pamba” (river valley) is subject to flooding from seasonal rainfall and fluctuations of the river’s water level.

The wealth of species in this type of vegetation is less, between 149-417 species per hectare, but on average in the largest trees the structure of the forest is in layers with a great development in the forest floor layer, some of the most common species in the “pambas” are.  (1) the legendary Amazonian Ceiba, Ceiba pentandra that reaches heights of 60m, (2) long-leafed heliconias, Heliconia sp. which is a wild and distant relative of the banana, whose bright red and orange colors attract hummingbirds (3) Guarumos, Cecropia sp.: fast-growing pioneer trees that colonize the forest clearings, (4) the Inga trees, Inga sp., belonging to the bean family (5) the Capirona tree Calycophyllum spruceanum whose constantly-shedding red bark inhibits the growth of epiphytes, and (6) the spiny-trunked palms Bactiris sp. and astrocaryum murumu, their nutritious seeds attract fish that feed on seeds.

Morete Swamps and Palm swamplands are permanently flooded lowlands either by rainfall or rivers on which a specific palm named the Morete, Maurtia flexuosa, grows. The Quichua people of the Napo call this kind of swamp “muriti turu”.  The soil in these areas is very humid, black in color, and acidic.  Under these extreme conditions, very few species other than the Morete palm are able to establish themselves.

Another type of swamp is made up of a mixture of palm trees and trees.  This swamp is temporarily flooded.  The soils in these areas are black, acidic, very humid, and not apt for agriculture.  Some of the most common types of trees found in this type of forest are: (1) the Real Scheelea Palm that provides material for the construction of the roofs of native houses, and (2) the small, colonizing and spiny Tagua palm, Bactris.  Usually, palm swamps do not have multiple layers of vegetation.  The palms spread out, presenting little undergrowth with less species and less individual vegetation.