As well as giving us spices and many common medicines, rainforests also remove harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Their decline could spell disaster for all of us and the wonderful rainforest animals. Learn more about these incredible lungs of the world with our rainforest facts.
Rainforests are made up of five layers. These are, from the top down, the emergent, the canopy, the under-storey, the shrub and the forest floor. Most rainforest animals live in the under-storey and shrub layers, while only 2% of the sun’s rays reach the dark and damp forest floor.
To be classed as a tropical rainforest, the area's average temperature in the coldest month of the year has to be at least 18 degrees celsius. The forest must also have an average monthly rainfall of at least 100mm.
Rainforests used to cover around 15% of the Earth’s surface. That figure is now around 7%. That’s about 900 million hectares of South and Central America, around 500 million hectares in Africa and around 260 million hectares in Asia.
Rainforests are known as nature's chemists. It's believed that one in four medicines purchased from a pharmacist contains an ingredient that was discovered in a rainforest.
Spices such as cardamom, ginger and vanilla originated in rainforests, as did the essential oils found in shampoos and other cosmetics. Brazil and cashew nuts have their origins in rainforests too, as well as gums and resins which are used to make products like chewing gum and wellies.
Rafflesia, the world's largest flower, was discovered in the Indonesian rainforest in the early 19th century. The Rafflesia is a parasitic plant that feeds off vines and can grow to around one metre across. Unfortunately for this rainforest plant, it's not an attractive flower; its petals look like rotting flesh and it stinks too, so the locals know it as the "corpse" or "meat" flower.
The biggest tropical rainforest in the world is the Amazon, in South America. Amazon rainforest wildlife is estimated to account for around 2.5 million insect and mammals and countless plants - around 40,000 plants have been scientifically classified but there are believed to be many more.
Not all rainforests are tropical, some are temperate. Temperate rainforests are not as hot but just as wet, with an average of 3,000mm of rain each year. Temperate rainforests occur in north-western North America, New Zealand, southern Chile, Norway and even in Great Britain.
Logging is one of the major factors in deforestation as is destruction of the land to create farmland for products like palm oil or for cattle grazing. Businesses have also cleared large tracts of forest to get to mineral rich areas where goods like gold and aluminium can be found.
Deforestation could have catastrophic results, pushing already endangered rainforest animals and plants to extinction and laying waste to valuable medicinal plants. Deforestation also has a drastic effect on global warming as fewer trees means more carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.
Prince Charles is a leading conservation figure in the campaign to save the rainforests. In 2000 his dedication to the cause was rewarded when he was made an honorary village chief by the people of the Sumara tribe in a remote area of the Guyana rainforest. He was presented with an eagle feather headdress and also took part in a traditional dance ceremony to seal his position.