We used palm knowledge to understand the interaction between people and the rainforests and the factors that influence this dynamic process. We interviewed 278 informants in 12 villages in the Pastaza and Madidi areas of the western Amazon basin. Together they used 38 different palm species for 38 different uses in six use-categories (food, construction, utensils, ritual, medicine, commercial). Euterpe precatoria, Iriartea deltoidea, and Oenocarpus bataua were best known and were mentioned as useful by 76-72% of the informants in the 12 villages. There was a great variation in number of uses and in how widespread the uses were and five of the 38 useful palms were mentioned by only one informant. Among the socioeconomic factors analyzed, the residence village influenced the informants' knowledge of palms and their uses more than any other factor. Length of education, prosperity and for how long the informant had lived in the village were also positively correlated to how many palms and palm uses were known. Gender differences in informants' knowledge of palm uses were not observed in our data. We suggest, that the high importance of forest products to the livelihood of the villagers, the great variation in the knowledge they possess, and the fact that the differences between villages is so great, are important elements to consider when developing management plans for the sustainable use of the rainforest resources in the western Amazon.