The word Caatinga refers to a mosaic of both xerophytic and deciduous, succulent cacti and spiny, rigid-leafed bromeliads, along with many annual species. Herbs and grasses grow only during the rainy season, and are barely visible throughout most of the year.
The xerophytic vegetation of the Northeast covers an area of approximately 910,000 km (565.500 miles), with areas extending into the states of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo, that is, 11% of the Brazilian territory.
The Caatinga is found on low plains and plateaus up to an altitude of 300-600 meters (985-1970 feet). The soil is predominantly red clay, or may sometimes be sandy, with outcroppings of crystalline rock. Where soil is not rocky, it is shallow and compact and rain water drains away rapidly, causing intense erosion. The xerophytic vegetation of the Northeast covers an area of approximately 910,000 km (565.500 miles), with areas extending into the states of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo, that is, 11% of the Brazilian territory.
There is a long dry season, during which the plants suffer a significant water deficit. This darkens the vegetation leaving only sparse patches of green. Rainfall, however, is torrential and irregular. There are few plant genera that occur exclusively in the Caatinga. Native species are not numerous, but they are typical. Examples are the formerly useful catingueira (Caesalpinia pyramidalis), umbuzeiro (Spondias tuberosa), juazeiro (Zizyphus joazeiro), macambira (Bromelia laciniosa), and the juremas (Mimosa hostilis) among others.There are also valuable woods which come from the Caatinga: barúna (Schinopsis brasiliensis) – extremely hard; cumaru-da-Caatinga (Torresea cearensis) – light and fragrant; pau-branco (Auxemma oncocalyx) – dark, heavy, hard and strong, with many uses.
The intense heat of the sun and the dryness of the environment (especially during droughts), have caused many animals to adopt nocturnal or fossorial habits. One of the most characteristic mammals of the Caatinga is the mocó (Kerodon rupestris). Armadillos, although rare, still occur in this ecosystem: the tatu-verdadeiro (long-nosed armadillo, Dasypus novemcinctus), the tatu-peba (six-banded armadillo Euphractus sexcinctus), and the tatu-bola (three-banded armadillo, Tolypeutes tricinctus – disappearing at an alarming rate).