Panama ’s plant life is among the most diverse in the world. The country contains 12 of the planet’s 30 Holdridge life zones. By far the most common is humid tropical forest, which accounts for about a third of Panama’s remaining forest cover. All of these zones but one, humid premontane forest, are represented in a system of protected areas.
Of Panama’s estimated 10,000 species of plants, about 1,500 of them are found nowhere else on the planet. Panama also has extensive wetlands, mangroves, and coral reefs.
Panamanian environmentalists like to point out that, per square kilometer, Panama has 21 times the plant diversity of Brazil. Trying to identify the plants even in a small patch of rainforest is daunting. There are 480 species of trees just on the 15 square kilometers of Isla Barro Colorado, more than are found in all of Europe.
The Panama tree (Sterculia apetala) is widely thought of as the national tree, and some maintain it gave the country its name. It has a straight trunk that can grow up to 35 meters tall, with vertical buttresses around its base.
The ceiba or kapok (Ceiba pentandra) can reach 60 meters and often juts above other trees in the forest. One kapok specimen on Isla Barro Colorado is so huge other trees grow on its branches.
The espavé or wild cashew (Anacardium excelsum) has a trunk so straight and tall that indigenous peoples use it to make dugout canoes. One explanation of its name is that espavé is a contraction of es para ver (“it’s for seeing”), meaning it’s a good tree to climb to see what’s off in the distance.
The mata palo or strangler fig (Ficus obtusifolia) starts as a seedling on a host tree that it eventually surrounds and engulfs. The mature strangler fig can be hollow inside, its original host completely decomposed. It’s easy to spot because of its enormously thick strangler roots, which can also engulf boulders and the ruins of buildings.
The massively thick trunk of the abundant cuipo (Cavanillesia platanifolia) also makes it easy to identify it in the forest.
In the dry season, flowering trees burst into bloom around the isthmus, dotting the green canopy with brilliant colors.
Panama  has more than 1,000 species of orchids, many of them endemic. The delicate white espíritu santo (holy ghost) orchid, also known as the dove orchid, is considered Panama’s national flower.