The Peruvian Amazon is a magical place filled with pristine rainforest and eclectic flora. With over 40,000 different plant species, and new ones continuously being discovered, the rainforest in Peru offers incredible sights even for the most seasoned of travelers.
If you’re thinking of heading to the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest, we’ve collected 18 fascinating plants worth keeping an eye out for during your adventure.
Kapok Tree (Ceiba pentandra)
Reaching up to 230 feet (70 m) in height, the kapok tree is one of the giants in the Amazon. Also known as the ceiba tree, this species towers over all the other vegetation in the rainforest and can even grow as much as a whopping 13 feet (4 m) per year.
The tree is home to a number of animal species, including birds and frogs. Bats are often attracted to kapok trees due to the odor emitted from their pink flowers.
Native to the tropical Amazon Rainforest, the ceiba tree can also be found in Central America, Mexico, and even West Africa.
Fun fact: When submerged in water, the unopened fruit of the ceiba pentandra tree won’t sink. It is believed that the fruit of the kapok tree floated its way from Latin America all the way to Africa.
Giant Water Lily (Victoria Amazonica)
Victoria Amazonica (formerly known as Victoria Regia) is the largest member of the water lily family. The giant water lily has large, round leaves with upturned rims. The diameter of each leaf can reach an astonishing diameter of 10 feet.
Perhaps its most spectacular feature, however, is its flowers. Although they emerge at night and only last for 48 hours, the flowers of the giant water lily are among the most beautiful in the Amazon. The flowers, just like the plant itself, can reach spectacular sizes – up to 16 inches.
The best way to witness the giant water lily in Peru is by joining an Amazon jungle tour with an experienced guide. During our Iquitos Amazon tours, for example, you’ll get to visit Yanamono Island where you can see the majestic Victoria Amazonica. Even more, the tours include an exciting Amazon Jungle tour, a visit to Monkey Island, and a visit to a local community.
Fun fact: At first, the flowers of the giant water lily are white. On their second night, they take on a beautiful purple-red hue.
Rubber Tree (Hevea brasiliensis)
The rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) is a rubberwood tree native to the rainforests of the Amazon basin and found in Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, and Colombia.
Its most famous feature is the milky white sap known as latex. The rubber tree can live up to 100 years and grow to heights of 130 feet. Once a hevea brasiliensis reaches about six years, it can be tapped for latex.
The latex sap from the rubber tree is used in modern rubber processing and is still a source of income for a number of indigenous communities around the Amazon.
Fun fact: The uses of rubber trees were first discovered and utilized by the ancient Aztecs, Olmecs, and Mayans. The latex sap was used to produce a number of items, including waterproof clothes and shoes.
Native to warm, humid environments, the Amazon orchid is one of the better known – and most delicate – flowers in the Peruvian Rainforest.
Unlike the elegant Asian orchids, the species found in Latin America boast a more vibrant pallet of colors, including hues of red, purple, yellow, and even black.
While these orchids are native to moist conditions, they are still extremely adaptable and can grow well in almost all climates. In fact, with more than 18,000 different species, orchids represent about 8% of all flowering plants.
Fun fact: In the Peruvian Amazon, the orchid plant is commonly found on tree branches and limbs, lurking just under the jungle’s canopy. As tropical epiphytes (plants that grow on other organisms), the Amazon orchids rely on atmospheric moisture and airborne nutrients to survive.
Passion Flower (Passiflora)
The passion flower is one of the most elaborate flowers you’ll find in the Peruvian Amazon. Passion flowers (or passion vines) are colorful plants that can be found twined around larger rainforest flora species or grounded in the form of shrubs.
Because most Passiflora relies on insects and birds for pollination, the flowers have adopted bright colors ranging from white to red to attract pollinators such as insects.
Some species, however, are pollinated by bats, which is why they flower at night. Their colors are more subtle and produce a strong scent to attract their nocturnal pollinators.
Fun fact: It is widely believed that the passion flower got its name from its appearance. When blooming, the flower resembles the crown of thorns said to have been worn by Christ during his final suffering and crucifixion (“the Passion of Christ”).
Bromeliads are fascinating plants with striking, sword-shaped leaves and bright colors (usually in orange, blue, red, and purple hues). There are over 2,700 bromeliad species worldwide, with the pineapple being the most well-known one.
In Peru, bromeliads are found deep in the Rainforest. They grow on the branches and trunks of trees in the canopy layer of the forest.
Fun fact: Many bromeliad species act like tiny ecosystems. They have a funnel of leaves that is used for collecting and storing water. These tiny water pools can grow single-celled organisms such as algae and feed other organisms such as insect larvae and mosquitoes. They can also be inhabited by smaller Amazon Rainforest animals such as the poison dart frog, snails, and salamanders.
Cacao (Theobroma cacao)
Cacao trees are fairly small (13 to 25 feet in height), evergreen trees found in the Amazon Rainforest. Their seeds, better known as cacao beans, are used in the manufacturing of chocolate.
Cacao trees are very picky about where they live. In order to thrive, these species need constant warmth and rainfall. They also need to be shaded from the tropical sun and sheltered from strong wind.
Under the right conditions, the cacao tree produces several clusters of fruit that emerge directly from the tree’s trunk and branches. The unripe cacao pods are green. As they ripen, they take on an orange hue and can grow up to 12 inches long and 5 inches wide.
Fun fact: In 2021, Peruvian chocolate received a Gold medal in both the dark and milk chocolate bars categories at the International Chocolate Awards.
Even if you are not a big fan of chocolate, though, there is still plenty of other traditional Peruvian food that is bound to delight your taste buds with a plethora of unique tastes and local ingredients.
Coffee Plant (Coffea arabica)
The coffee plant is an evergreen plant that – even though it can grow up to 30 feet (9 m) tall in the wild – is considered to be a bush or shrub. It has glossy, dark green leaves and small, white flowers that produce a unique scent to help attract pollinating insects.
Once the flowers fall off the plant, berries begin to appear in their place. The berries are ripe once they reach a bright crimson color. Inside each berry, there are about two small green coffee beans.
Coffee plants can live up to 100 years and it typically takes about 5 to 8 years of growth for a new coffee plant to start producing fruit.
Fun fact: Peru is one of the world’s leading coffee exporters. In fact, the country exports about $60 million worth of coffee worldwide and is the world’s biggest exporter of fair trade coffee.
Monkey Brush Vine (Combretum rotundifolium)
The Monkey Brush is a striking vine native to the Amazon Rainforest region. It is considered a parasitic plant and spreads onto other plants and trees. It has spiky flowers that, when in bloom, resemble a bright brush.
The flowers change color from yellow to deep orange, resembling a flame. They are pollinated by bees and other insects, and the fruit serves as food for a number of different birds.
Fun fact: If you spot a Monkey Brush vine, be on the lookout for green iguanas. The vine is one of their favorite resting spots in the jungle.
Heliconias, also called lobster claws or parrot flowers, are unique paddle-shaped plants found in the Amazon Rainforest.
Their gravity-defying leaves are known as bracts and can be red, yellow, pink, orange, purple, or a combination of these. The flowers of the heliconia are tiny and can be found inside the bracts.
Fun fact: When it rains, the heliconia collects water in the bracts and, just like the bromeliad plant, it can serve as a home to a variety of small aquatic organisms. Its nectar is also a delicious treat for hummingbirds and butterflies.
Hot Lips Plant (Palicourea elata)
The palicourea elata is one of the most astonishing and unique-looking plants found in the understory flora of the Peruvian Amazon. Its leaf-like bracts resemble a set of ruby red lips, which is why the plant is most commonly referred to as the hot lips plant.
The stunning red color of the hot lips plants remains this way for just a short time – just enough to help attract birds and butterflies to pollinate the flowers. The actual star-shaped flowers grow between the bracts and are typically bright white. As the flowers mature, they turn into blue-colored berries.
Fun fact: Some Palicourea elata species contain a chemical known as dimethyltryptamine. For centuries, these plants have been used by indigenous Amazon communities to treat aches, arthritis, and impotency.
Cat’s Claw (Uncaria tomentosa)
Native to the Amazon Rainforest, the cat’s claw plant is a herb with distinctive claw-like thorns projected from the base of its leaves.
There are over 34 Uncaria species, however, the Uncaria tomentosa (typically encountered in the Peruvian Amazon) is the most common one. It’s found primarily in the foothills of the rainforest at elevations of 2,000 and 8,000 feet (600 – 2,440 m).
Cat’s claw is best known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. In fact, Uncaria tomentosa is used medicinally as an adjunctive treatment for diseases that target the immune system such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Fun fact: The Ashaninka (indigenous people living in the Peruvian Rainforest) are one of the largest producers of Cat’s Claw. The herb has been an important part of their medicinal and spiritual practices for over 2,000 years.
Cumaseba (Swartzia polyphylla)
Cumaseba is a tropical tree that can grow up to 115 feet (35 m) high. In Peru, it can be found in lower elevations throughout the Amazon basin area. It has olive-green leaves, small white flowers, and brown seed pods with 2 seeds inside each pod.
Fun fact: Among local communities, the bark and/or wood of Cumaseba has been used for muscle and joint pain, as well as a postpartum elixir. The Shipibo-Conibo tribe in Peru also use the Cumaseba tree resin to treat eye infection and eye-related injuries.
Strangler Fig (Ficus genus)
The strangler fig is one of the most extraordinary trees you’ll find in the rainforest of Peru.
Strangles figs spend part of their lifecycle as epiphytes (an organism that grows on the surface of another plant). Instead of starting off as a seed in the soil of the forest floor, the strangler fig’s life cycle begins in the forest canopy where its seeds become lodged in the cracks of its host tree’s bark.
The roots of the strangler fig wrap themselves around the host tree until they surround the host’s trunk entirely. Once the roots reach the ground and start extracting more nutrients, growth accelerates.
Fun fact: The strangler fig eventually overshadows the crown of the host tree, taking away its sunlight. While it can be deadly to the host tree, the ficus genus is still an important part of the rainforest ecosystem, serving as a food source and providing habitat for hundreds of species.
Achiote (Bixa orellana)
The achiote is a shrub, or small tree, native to South America and the Amazon. It can grow up to 33 feet (10m) high and its most distinct feature are its fruits which form in clusters at the end of the branches. These red-brown seed pods are covered in soft spikes and hold small red, pigmented seeds wrapped in a waxy layer.
Fun fact: The achiote tree has many traditional uses as a dye and is often referred to as the lipstick tree. Amazonian tribes often use achiote for painting faces and bodies, as well as to protect their skin from insects and sunburn and help wounds heal. The tree’s vibrant pigmentation has made it a popular ingredient in many cosmetic and culinary products, too.
Açaí Palm (Euterpe oleracea)
The acai palm (also called euterpe oleracea) is a species of palm tree primarily cultivated for its fruit, leaves, and trunk wood.
Native to the river Amazon’s basin, the acai palm thrives in high densities spread over swamps and floodplains. It can be found in clumps with up to 20 stems.
The fruit of the euterpe oleracea is called acai. It is a berry similar in appearance to a grape but smaller. The unripe fruits are bright green in color. As they ripe, depending on the palm’s variety, they turn purple or opaque green.
The acai berry has quickly gained popularity as a ‘superfood’ due to it being high in antioxidants and healthy omegas. Nowadays, acai is primarily used to produce juice. This has become a key economic product in the Amazon region and is sold unprocessed and pasteurized or as a mixed frozen pulp.
Fun fact: Once mature, the acai palm can produce about 2,200 pounds (1,000 kg) of fruit during the span of 5 years. Most species will give fruit for at least 25 years.
Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)
Water lettuce is a popular floating perennial plant that grows in tropical and subtropical regions. As the name suggests, the plant looks like a head of leafy greens.
The plant grows in rosettes with thick but soft leaves. Each rosette can reach a diameter of about 12 in (30 cm) and a height of 4 in (10 cm). Water lettuce plants are popular among garden ponds as they can inhibit the growth of algae and clean the water.
Fun fact: Water lettuce plants have extremely dense roots that extend up to 40 in (102 cm) underwater and often serve as shelter for small fish.
Devil’s Gardens (Supay chakra)
Devil’s gardens are large stands of trees that appear randomly across the Amazon jungle. Each of these devil’s gardens consists almost entirely of one single species – Duroia hirsuta (a myrmecophyte tree species).
Duroia hirsuta is the preferred habitat of the Myrmelachista schumanni ant. While there is no conclusive answer as to why these gardens occur, scientific proposals suggest that these ants poison competing plants by injecting them with a natural herbicide (formic acid) to promote the growth of Duroia hirsuta and, in turn, provide the ant colony with an abundance of suitable nest sites.
Fun fact: For a long time, native tribes believed that devil’s gardens were cultivated by a forest spirit called Chullachaqui and anyone who stumbled upon them was at risk of being attacked or cursed.
In reality, these gardens were created by ants and are an excellent example of just how diverse the Amazon Rainforest can be. So, if you’re planning a jungle adventure in Peru, be sure you are prepared and know what to wear in the rainforest before you embark on your adventure.
Discover More of the Amazon Rainforest
The Peruvian Amazon Rainforest boasts extraordinary biodiversity, and witnessing some of its unique flora and fauna deserves to be on any adventurer’s bucket list.
Ready for your next jungle adventure? Check out the complete Peruvian Amazon travel guide and find out how to plan a hassle-free trip.