Forests are skilled multi-taskers: They house countless wildlife species, protect soils and water sources, prevent erosion, help regulate the global climate and provide us with the goods we use every day, including wood, paper, coffee and cocoa. But did you know that the following five items also originate in forests?
Whether it’s the ball that your kids toss on the playground or the soles of your most comfortable shoes, the natural rubber in these products is made from a milky white sap that flows from the rubber tree when part of its bark is removed. A quick-growing species, the rubber tree provides important income to indigenous populations and gives forest communities an economic incentive to conserve their forestlands. Though native to South America’s Amazon region, rubber trees are now cultivated all over the globe. In Guatemala, the Rainforest Alliance has verified a forest carbon project designed to raise money for the establishment of sustainable rubber tree plantations, which will help restore degraded pastureland and sequester greenhouse gas emissions.
The last time you pulled a non-synthetic cork out of a wine bottle, did you realize that the stopper came from an oak tree? The outer bark of the cork oak – a tree found throughout southwestern Europe and northwestern Africa – is cut and peeled and can be made into wine stoppers, bulletin boards and other items. Because the cork oak is able to regenerate its outer bark, each tree can be harvested multiple times, making cork a renewable resource. Plus, harvested trees are good for the climate — they store up to five times more carbon than unharvested cork oaks. The Rainforest Alliance has been working with cork producers in Spain and Portugal to help them manage their forests sustainably, and winemakers such as Oregon’s Willamette Valley Vineyards are already using FSC/Rainforest Alliance Certified™ corks to seal their wines.
3) Brazil Nuts
The Brazil nut tree is a finicky specimen. In order to produce fruit, it requires that its forest home be undisturbed and that it contain a particular type of orchid whose exotic flowers attract the specific bee species that are necessary for pollination. It’s also a hard nut to crack, literally; only the agoutis, a large rodent, has teeth sharp enough to break through the fruit’s woody shell. But the tree’s fussy behavior pays off in a big way: Brazil nuts are rich in protein and their oil is used in many beauty products, making them one of the most economically important non-timber forest products in the Amazon and earning valuable income for the communities that collect them.
A distilled liquor known for its rich, smoky flavor, mezcal is produced from the maguey plant, which grows in the dry forests of southern Mexico. (Also known as wild agave, maguey is a relative of the plant used to make tequila.) The heart of the plant is roasted in a pit oven using charcoal that’s often derived from local trees, a practice that has resulted in deforestation. To help combat this problem, a former Rainforest Alliance Kleinhans Fellow has been working with the residents of one of Mexico’s poorest regions to help them produce this potent spirit in a sustainable manner.
Your neighborhood pharmacy may be your first stop when you’re under the weather, but when it comes to many of our medicines, the forest is the ultimate source. Quinine, for example, is derived from the cinchona tree and is used to prevent and treat malaria. The bark of the Pacific yew tree contains paclitaxel, a chemotherapy drug, while in traditional medicine, the fruit and leaves of the sapodilla tree (the species from which chicle is produced) are used to treat diarrhea, coughs and colds. All told, forest plants have helped to prevent, treat or cure inflammation, rheumatism, diabetes, muscle tension, surgical complications, heart conditions, skin diseases, arthritis, glaucoma and hundreds of other conditions.
Find out what the Rainforest Alliance is doing to keep forests standing – and discover more fun facts about the world’s forests.