|Central American Flora|
Tropical rain forests lie on the eastern half of Central America and typically have many tall, broadleaved evergreen trees 130 feet (40 meters) or more in height, and 4-5 feet (1.2-1.5 meters) in diameter that form a dense canopy. Shade-seeking plants, such as palms, figs, ferns, vines, philodendrons, and orchids, form the forest undergrowth beneath the trees.
Epiphytes, such as orchids, ferns, bromeliads, and mosses, cling to the branches of the trees in a dense mat of vegetation—these plants have no roots but grow by clinging to the trunks of trees and drawing moisture and nourishment from the air.
Rain-forest trees that are harvested for their commercial value include mahogany, kapok, cedarwood, tagua, ebony, and rosewood for making furniture; breadfruit, palm, and cashew; sapodilla, used to make latex; and the rubber tree. Many brilliantly colored flowers also grow in Central America. The most common of these are orchids (with close to a thousandspecies), heliconias, hibiscus, and bromeliads.
In the Caribbean lowlands, where the soil is porous and dry, extensive savanna grasslands with sparse forests of pines, palmettos, guanacastes, cedars, and oaks are found. Along the Caribbean coast (called the Mosquito Coast), mangroves and coconut palms flourish in swamps and lagoons.
On the western side of the mountains, facing away from the moist Caribbean winds and receiving rain only seasonally, vegetation is sparse and semiarid, and soils are poor and unproductive. Deciduous tropical forests dominate there, and vegetation is characterized by evergreen herbs and shrubs, plumeria (frangipani), eupatorium pines, myrtles, and sphagnum mosses.