A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000, the Pantanal is a unique blend of species from Amazonia, the Cerrado
and the scrublands. It is a relatively new and unstable region that is undergoing transformation and encompasses a complex mixture of plants and floral species including Bolivian and Paraguayan xerophytes, savannah species from central Brazil, species from eastern Brazil and Amazonian forests, and hydrophytes that are widely distributed in the neotropics. The dominant habitats are grassland (31.1%), woodland (22.1 %), cerrado (14.3%), marshes (7.4%), semideciduous forest (4%), gallery forest (2.4%) and floating mats (2.4%).
Meadow grasses form a natural pastureland and are usually located in the more humid areas that are subject to flooding. Shrub lands are found in higher and drier areas and remain out of the water. Clumps of thorn bushes, dense forest and palm tree groves make up the third type of land cover.
The most common palm trees are the Caraná
, which grows to about 35 feet (10 metres), and the Buriti
, whose fruit is rich in oil and is often made into a strong-tasting, yellow wine. In denser forested areas we find twisted-trunked Aroeira Fig trees
, which blooms pink, lilac and purple in July and August, and the Cambará
with golden yellow flowers.
In another type of grove you will find the Yellow Ipê
known in the Pantanal as the paratudo
(literally, “for everything”).
Forests line the watercourses of the Pantanal with Genipapo Fig trees
, Inga trees
, Silver-leafed Embaúbas
. The Acuri palm tree
provides a delicious fruit for the macaws and the Pau-de-novato
has pink or red flowers to provide colour to the riverbanks. However, don't hang your hammock on this type of tree or hundreds of tiny, stinging ants will likely fall upon you.
On the higher plains you will find Cacti
The Water Hyacinth
(in Portuguese “aguapé-purua”), has a beautiful flower that lasts only one day, wilting after sunset. The plant itself grows profusely and often proves hazardous to waterways.
Blue and lilac Pond Lilies
are found on the ponds and rivers. In parts of the Pantanal you will also see the huge lily pads of the Victoria amazonica
. Strong enough to bear the weight of a small child, they have upturned edges and can measure two to six feet across. The fragrant flowers, with 50 or more petals and measuring seven to 18 inches wide, open milky-white toward evening and exude a strong odour that attracts Cyclocephala
beetles. It then closes on daylight trapping the beetles inside. It then opens again the next night as a pink or reddish flower and releases the beetles, which are now loaded with pollen. Two days later they wither to be replaced by large, berry-like fruit, which is then eaten by fish, birds and mammals alike.
Some Pantanal species are found in the list below with their Latin name and, where possible, their English or Portuguese equivalent.
: Macaw Palm or Macauba Palm or Grugru Palm
: Bocaiuva Palm
: Alligator Weed
: Cashew Apple
: Angico Tree
: Acuri Palm
: Fahkahatchee Bluethread
: Caranday Palm or Wax Palm
: Louro Tree
: Baru Tree
: German Grass or Creeping River Grass
: Anchored Water Hyacinth
: Common Water Hyacinth
: Acute Spikerush
: Pacara Earpod Tree or Ximbiuva
: Strangler Fig
: Fig Tree
: Figueira mata-pan
: Chico Magra
: Titica Vine
: Marsh Grass or Water Straw Grass or Trumpet Grass
: Southern Cutgrass
: Amazon Sprangletop (a semi-aquatic grass)
: Amazon Frogbit
: Buriti Palm
: Giant Sensitive Tree
: (a type of waterlily)
: Night-blooming Waterlily
: Bacaçu Palm
: Cuban Bullrush
: Wright's Crowngrass
: Passion Fruit
: Red Root Floater
: Water Cabbage or Water Lettuce
: Tropical Pickerelweed
: Brazil(ian) Pepper Tree
: Yellow Trumpet Tree or Paratudo
: Pink or Purple Trumpet Tree or Piúva or Ipê-roxo
: Ipê tree
: Giant Waterlily or Royal Waterlily
Certain plants in the Pantanal have extra uses for mankind. Below are some of those worth noting:
Tree (Anacardium occidentale
) produces the cashew nut which hangs below the fruit (cashew apples) which is not really fruit but rather the fleshy stalk. The pulp yields a somewhat acid, refreshing juice used extensively for jams, sweets and preserves.
) grows in the state of Mato Grosso along the border with Paraguay. It is important for the thin layer of wax that covers its leaves. The wax is unique in that it has properties not found in any other material, whether natural or artificial. It is valued for its very high melting point (83-86 degrees Celsius) and for the wonderful lustre it gives to polished surfaces.
In Mato Grosso, some Heteropteris
species are considered aphrodisiacs.
) wood is of great value as it is beautiful, of high quality and practically indestructible. Ipê wood exists in various shades of brown, is very heavy, hard and durable and is used for shipbuilding, railway ties and flooring.
) produces a sticky resin that oozes from the wood and leaves where they have been cut or injured. The resin then fossilizes over tens of thousands of years producing amber. Sometimes insects are trapped in the resin and become preserved in the amber. Jatoba is the most common source of fossilized amber in the Neotropics.
tree (Cordia glabrata
) produces fragrant white flowers that are visited by moths in the early morning and by bees, beetles and butterflies during the day. A fast-growing species, it has been suggested as ideal for reforestation projects.
) is a widely-dispersed palm. Both the slimy, soft external tissue and the seed yield oil. The former is used to manufacture soap and the latter, for cooking.
or Passion Fruit
) - The passion flower is widely cultivated. The fruit is also delicious both fresh and for juices and ice cream.
) has a milky juice and is well known for its fruit, mamão or papaya, which is both eaten and used green in the kitchen to tenderize meat. The latex of the unripe fruit is the source of papain, an enzyme that digests proteins. It is also used to clarify beer.
supplies bark for preserving fishing nets and is obtainable at shops dealing in fishing and angling equipment.
There are also a number of Medicinal Plants
that grow in the Pantanal. Below are a few of the more well-known ones.
) - Medicinal use
: Its peel is used for intestinal upsets, to induce menstruation and to combat rheumatism. Oil extracted from the nut is called baru oil and is used in perfumes and cosmetics. The tree nuts are disseminated by animals. It is found in Bolivia, Paraguay and the Pantanal in Brazil.
) - The fruit is edible and an oil is often extracted from the pulp. Its roots are used to make a tea to cure hepatitis.
Macaw Palm or Macauba Palm or Grugru Palm
) - Medicinal use
: The root is used to treat abscesses and respiratory illnesses and as a diuretic. The oil is a laxative; the sap is potable and fermentable. It is found only in Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and the Pantanal in Brazil.
Pacara Earpod Tree
) - Its fruit, a legume called “Favela-branca”, has a twisted shape rather like that of the large intestine. Its cork is light yellow and about 1 centimetre thick. Medicinal use
: The fruit is an abortive and the trunk bark is
used to treat kidney disease while the root bark is used to combat rheumatism and is also a sedative. The indigenous populations use the leaves and
bark to kill fish because they contain toxic levels of triterpenoid steroids and alkaloids. This tree is found in the Pantanal along ridgelines.
Yellow Trumpet Tree
) - Medicinal use
: The sap is used on cuts; the toasted leaf is a stimulant and can be used in tea. With long term use it can combat worms, anaemia, hepatitis, colds and other inflammations. It is an excellent febrifuge, containing the alkali carobina. The word “caroba” comes from the tupi Indian word “ka' á rob” meaning “bitter leaf.”
The Pink or Purple Trumpet Tree
and Tabebuia heptaphyla
), on the other hand, is related to the flame vine and jacaranda tree. With masses of pink/purple trumpet flowers, it sometimes loses all of its leaves prior to blooming. An individual tree can sometimes flower two or three times during the dry season to attract pollinating insects, mainly bees.
On tours with Pantanal Jaguar Expeditions
, we will also show you other types of medicinal plants.