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The term tropical is used in several related meanings.

The original and literal use refers to those areas of the Earth's surface which lie between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. These mark the notional lines linking the furthest points north and the furthest points south at which the sun is overhead at any time in the year.

By extension, "tropical" also refers to the supposedly typical climate of those regions at or near sea-level, that is to say, a climate marked by very warm temperatures and often high humidity. By further extension, it refers to the vegetation supposedly typical of such a climate.

However, as much of the land within the tropics lies at several thousand metres above sea-level, it does not have a tropical climate or vegetation, and there is a potential conflict between the original and the normal use of the term.