About one-fourth of the world's known plant species are found in Brazil. The Amazon Basin, the world's largest tropical rain forest, includes tall Brazil nut trees, brazilwood, myriad palms, kapok-bearing ceiba trees enlaced with vines and creepers, rosewood, orchids, water lilies, and the wild rubber tree.
South of the vast Amazonian forest is a mixture of semideciduous forest (mata) and scrub forests. The characteristic flora of the northeast interior is the carnauba wax-yielding palm in the states of Ceará and Piauí. To the east there are big areas of thorn scrub, the result of generally poor soils and periodic devastating droughts. Along the humid coast are many mango, cajú, guava, coconut, and jack-fruit trees, as well as large sugar and cotton plantations, the latter indigenous. Within the savanna, sparse forests, and "campos cerrados" (enclosed fields of badly deforested, populous Minas Gerais), there are various woody shrubs, lianas, and epiphytes, the staghorn fern, and an abundance of herbs, especially grasses. Brazil has many fair to good pasturage grasses, on which millions of beef cattle, not always of high grade, and some dairy cattle in the favored southern states graze.
In the southern states are exotic flowers, such as papagaias; flowering trees, such as the quaresma, which blossoms during Lent; and the popular ipê tree with its yellow petals, planted on some São Paulo streets. In the southernmost part of the Brazilian plateau forests, where temperate climate prevails, is found a mixture of araucarias (umbrella pines) and broadleaf species. The pampas of Rio Grande do Sul are extensive grasslands. Maté, of economic importance as a beverage, is made from the roasted, powdered leaves of a tree harvested extensively in the southern states.
The Amazon rain forest is host to a great variety of tropical fauna, including hundreds of types of macaws, toucans, parrots, and other brightly colored birds; brilliant butterflies; many species of small monkeys; anacondas, boas, and other large tropical snakes; crocodiles and alligators; and such distinctive animals as the Brazilian "tiger" (onca), armadillo, sloth, and tapir. The rivers in that region abound with turtles and exotic tropical fish, and the infamous "cannibal fish" (piranha) is common; in all, more than 2,000 fish species have been identified.