Why rainforests are important
More than half the species of plants and animals of the Earth live in the rainforests. We know about only a small number of these species. We could learn more, but we must hurry.
The peoples of the rainforests have always used plants to make medicines. Today, all over the world, people use medicines made from rainforest plants. Quinine, the medicine for malaria, comes from the cinchona tree of Peru.
The leaves of the rosy periwinkle from Madagascar are used as a medicine for the deadly blood disease, leukaemia.
Many new medicines are waiting in the rainforests. If we destroy the forests, we shall never find them.
Rainforest trees are used to make things, which we use every day. Rubber, for example, is used to make many things. The fruits of many forest trees are good to eat — forest people have eaten them for thousands of years. Today, all over the world, people eat rainforest food plants; for example, coffee, tea, oranges, and rice. Maize, which is an important food for many people of the world, is another rainforest plant.
In 1970, a disease destroyed half the maize in the United States of America. Scientists began to look for new species of maize in the rainforests. In 1987, in the Mexican rainforest, they found a new species, which is stronger than other species. But we nearly lost this new species of maize, because people were already cutting down that part of the Mexican rainforest.
Nobody knows how many useful plants are already lost because people have destroyed many of the rainforests of the world.
The trees of the rainforests help the Earth’s air because their leaves use carbon dioxide and make oxygen, which we need to live.
They are also important because they control some of the Earth’s weather. Through their large leaves, they give out water vapour, which makes heavy clouds. The clouds then move to other parts of the Earth and give rain. The clouds also protect the Earth from the sun.
Today, the Earth is slowly getting hotter, and in some places changes in the weather are making life much more about the Earth’s weather while we still have the rainforests.