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A Selection of Plantlife Found in the Pantanal

 

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, Piúva, 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 and Tucum. 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 and Bromeliads.

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.

Acrocomia aculeata: Macaw Palm or Macauba Palm or Grugru Palm
Acrocomia sclerocarpa: Bocaiuva Palm
Alchornea castaneifolia: Iporuru
Alternanthera philoxeroides: Alligator Weed
Anacardium occidentale: Cashew Apple
Anadenanthera colubrina: Angico Tree
Aniseia cernua
Astronium fraxinifolium: Gonçalo
Attalea phalerata: Acuri Palm

Barrosoa confluentis
Bergeronia sericea
Bromelia balansae: Bromélias
Burmannia flava: Fahkahatchee Bluethread

Callisthene fasciculate: Carvoeiro
Carica papaya: Papaya
Cedrella fissilis: Cedro
Combretum lanceolatum
Copernicia alba: Caranday Palm or Wax Palm
Cordia glabrata: Louro Tree

Dilodendron bipinniatum: Mulher-pobre
Dipteryx alata: Baru Tree
Discolobium pulchellum
Drosera sessilifolia

Echinochloa polystachya: German Grass or Creeping River Grass
Eichhornia azurea: Anchored Water Hyacinth
Eichhornia crassipes: Common Water Hyacinth
Eleocharis acutangula: Acute Spikerush
Enterolobium contortisiliquum: Pacara Earpod Tree or Ximbiuva
Erechtites hieracifolia: Fireweed

Ficus aurea: Strangler Fig
Ficus carica: Fig Tree
Ficus dendrocida: Figueira mata-pan
Fuirena umbellata: Yefen

Guadua paniculata: Bamboo
Guazuma sp.: Chico Magra

Heteropsis flexuosa: Titica Vine
Hymenachne amplexicaulis: Marsh Grass or Water Straw Grass or Trumpet Grass
Hymenaea courbaril: Jatobá

Imperata tenuis: Hack
Inga vera: Ingá

Leersia hexandra: Southern Cutgrass
Leptochloa panichoides: Amazon Sprangletop (a semi-aquatic grass)
Limnobium laevigatum: Amazon Frogbit
Lythraea molleoides: Aroeirinha
Lytocaryum weddellianum

Magonia pubescens: Timbó
Mangifera indica: Mango
Marsilea crotophora: Pepperwort
Mauritia flexuosa: Buriti Palm
Mimosa pigra: Giant Sensitive Tree
Myracroduon urundeuva: Aroeira
Myrcia fallax: Curame

Najas podostemon
Neptunia natans
Neptunia plena
Nymphaea belophylla: (a type of waterlily)
Nymphaea oxypetala: Night-blooming Waterlily

Orbygnya phalerata: Bacaçu Palm
Orchidae: Orchids
Oxycaryum cubense: Cuban Bullrush

Paratheria sp.
Paspalum wrightii: Wright's Crowngrass
Passiflora incarnata: Passion Fruit
Phyllanthus fluitans: Red Root Floater
Piper fuligineum: Pepper
Pistia stratiotes: Water Cabbage or Water Lettuce
Pontederia rotundifolia: Tropical Pickerelweed
Pontederia triflora: Pickerelweed
Pterocarpus michelii: Ingá-bravo

Reimaria sp.
Rheedia brasiliensis: Bacupari
Rudgea cornifolia

Schinopsis brasiliensis: Coronilho
Schinus terebinthifolius: Brazil(ian) Pepper Tree
Sesbania exasperata
Setaria sp.
Simira rubescens
Sphinctanthus hassleriana
Sterculia apetala: Taruma
Sweetia fruiticosa: Chifre-de-veado

Tabebuia aurea: Yellow Trumpet Tree or Paratudo
Tabebuia impetiginosa: Pink or Purple Trumpet Tree or Piúva or Ipê-roxo
Tabebuia spp.: Ipê tree
Terminalia argentea: Capitão
Thevetia bicornuta
Triplaris americana: Novateiro
Triplaris gardneriana: Pajau

Victoria amazonica: Giant Waterlily or Royal Waterlily
Vochysia divergens: Cambará

Certain plants in the Pantanal have extra uses for mankind. Below are some of those worth noting:

The Caju or Cashew 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.

Carandá (Copernicia alba) 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.

Ipê (Tabebuia spp.) 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.

Jatobá (Hymenaea courbaril) 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.

The Louro 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.

Macaúba (Acrocomia aculeata) 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.

Maracujá or Passion Fruit (Passiflora) - The passion flower is widely cultivated. The fruit is also delicious both fresh and for juices and ice cream.

Papaya (Carica papaya) 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.

Schinus terebinthifolius 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.

Baru tree (Dipterys alata) - 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.

Bocaiuva Palm (Acrocomia sclerocarpa) - 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 (Acrocomia aculeata) - 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 (Enterolobium contortisiliquum) - 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 (Tabebuia aurea) - 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 (Tabebuia impetiginosa 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.

 

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This page was last modified on 12 January 2014.

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