When time and funding permit, each flower (each plant species) will have its own page, and its own PDF, and eventually its own PPT so that professors and students have plenty of material on Guatemala (and Honduras, etc) to study.

Heliconia adflexa, Coban, Guatemala, Hotel Monja Blanca, FLAAR, by Nicholas Hellmuth

This space is for flowers
we have recently found and photographed.

Reports by FLAAR Mesoamerica
on Flora & Fauna of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo
Peten, Guatemala, Central America

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Continued research on Mayan medicinal plants

Posted Feb. 2, 2015

While photographing in a field near Rio de los Esclavos, Departamento de Santa Rosa, a local person came up to introduce himself. Turned out he was a Mam speaker who had several years experience living and working in USA. But it also turned out that he knew medicinal plants of many areas of Guatemala. So we recently did a field trip in the fincas of the family who owns the building which we rent for our offices.

It is always a good idea to know the owner of the land where you are doing plant photography, and to get to know the local people from nearby villages.

We are now posting a bibliography on medicinal plants to document our continued research. Since we have found many plants which are not in other textbooks, we are seeking grants and funding to continue our long range program to find, photograph, and publish all the local, native Mayan medicinal plants of Guatemala.


Benefits of using drones for studying trees

Posted Jan. 19, 2015

Agronomists have surely been using drones for several years. But this technology is still relatively new in Mesoamerica. We recently hired an experienced drone pilot in Guatemala, Juan Carlos Fernandez, to study trees. As long as your drone is not commercial size, and as long as you use it in an area where you are not intruding on anyone's privacy, use is considered normal.

We have been studying ceiba trees for many decades. The Ceiba pentandra is the national tree of Guatemala today and was a sacred tree for the Maya and most cultures of Mesoamerica for thousands of years.

These trees are so high that there is no way to do photography from above unless you have enough $$ to charter a helicopter. Since that is too expensive for most scholars, we are testing normal-sized drones (about 40 cm in diameter).

We learned a lot in the two days of our first experiences. Juan Carlos Fernandez, the drone controller, photographed two ceibas and two palo blanco trees, Tabebuia donnell-smithii. We will be publishing our results in a FLAAR Report and potentially elsewhere in the coming months.



Goals for studies of Mayan agriculture for 2015

Posted the last days of December 2014 as preparation for 2015; updated May 2015

In 2015 we hope to find

  • native magnolia in bloom,
  • all other species of native magnolia
  • Quararibea funebris, Rosita de cacao
  • Hymenaea courbaril, Guapinol, when it blooms
  • Smilax species flowers (tough, as this vine flowers high in tall trees)
  • and Curatella Americana in bloom, chaparal.

So far in the first five months we reached several of these goals:
we found Curatella americana in its literally last days of blooming for 2015.

A team of our two botany students found one species of magnolia in bloom, Magnolia quetzal, on a remote mountain slope.

one of our plant scouts found Guapinol near Parque Lachua, but it had mature seed pods (insides are edible). So we need to learn when it will bloom in 2016.


Progress in Maya ethnobotanical research in Mesoamerica

Posted the last days of December 2014 as preparation for 2015

On Christmas day 2014 we were photographing the pretty lavender flowers of achiote, Bixa orellana, in a remote area of Alta Verapaz. Two days later we reached the cacao areas of the Boca Costa (piedmont and initial hills before the higher mountain ranges) and Costa Sur (flatlands).

We also continue to study plants which produce dye colorants for Maya clothing. Several scholars in Guatemala have published on dye colorants. Our contribution is to find and photograph each species in high resolution.

And we will also keep on searching for medicinal plants. We appreciate the cooperation of medical biologist Armando Caceres in this work; we want to photograph the flowers and eco-system of all medicinal plants of the Maya. The lists already exist; what is lacking is a coffee-table quality and quantity of photographs of the actual remarkable medicinal plants.

Plus we wish to encourage local people to consider a better diet of more fruits and more vegetables (in other words, to learn more about the foods of their ancestors).

Also we would like to do projects with international agencies, on how to provide employment in rural areas, by creating clever items from natural plant products to sell to tourists in Guatemala City, Lake Atitlan, Chichicastenango, Tikal, etc. We already have a list of what local, native, Mayan plants and trees could be used.

As soon as donations, contributions, or grants allow us to obtain a 4WD double-cabin Toyota or Madza pickup (or Ford F250 of comparable size) we can achieve more. Plus it would help to have access to

  • Schneider Xenon f1.6, 35 mm lens (for photographing trees)
  • Zeiss Otis f1.4, 55mm lens (for photographing trees out in a field),
  • Schneider Macro Symmar f2.4, 85mm, for high-res close-ups of flowers
  • a Canon EF 500mm f/4.0L IS II USM prime telephoto lens (for photographing flowers and fruits high in trees, or a tree which is across a creek or on the other side of a narrow canyon).

Plus one really high-power PC and one fully-equipped Mac to handle high-resolution photographs (here at FLAAR we use both Mac and PC, since some software prefers one or the other).


Flor de Muerto, Maya flowers for deceased relatives

Posted Oct 31, 2014

"Flor de Muerto" is a marigold flower which is used to decorate the graves of deceased relatives. Millions of people in Latin America (and elsewhere) celebrate the first days of November by honoring their dead relatives. Flowers are placed on the graves.

Marigold flowers are the primary flower, but each year more plastic flowers are used, or cheap flowers spray painted with bright chemical colors. So we are trying to find and photograph Mayan areas of Guatemala where actual native flowers are still used.

Marigolds come in many sizes and shapes; most are yellow but other colors occur. Several species provide a yellow dye colorant (to color food or to color cloth). Some marigolds have rather potent chemical composition, especially Tagetes lucida (a species whose flower is very different in size and shape than the larger daisy-like marigold flowers).

The name "flor de Muerto" is used for almost any marigold but I estimate is most appropriate for the medium sized flower with closely bunched petals. And usually darkish colors rather than all bright yellow.

Tagetes erecta Flor de Muerto Sep 2013 4871

Flor de Muerto, Maya flowers for deceased relatives


Cashew Nut Fruit

First published August 2014

We have had a web page on cashew nuts for several years. But when flying from Tehran to Istanbul in early August, the NY Times that they handed out on the Turkish Airlines flight had an article on Pepsi Co. of India and their work with seeking ways to handle the fruit of the cashew apple. Since I have been photographing cashew flowers and cashew apples for many years throughout Guatemala, I thought now that more people know about the cashew apple would be a good time to prepare an introductory bibliography.

Anacardium occidentale cashew nut fruit flowers Rio de los Esclavos Mar15 6515

Anacardium occidentale, Cashew nut fruit, taken with a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, From the Flaar photo Archive. Taken on 2013.


Guava research in Guatemala

Posted April 2014

We are finding out all the diverse range of uses of guava, of every part of the plant.

Much to our surprise, it turned out we had a guava tree in our own garden: never knew since the garden is like a thick jungle at times. But when it bloomed, Sofia Monzon took great photos of the flowers.


Psidium guajava L., Guava Flower, photo by Sofia Monzon

You can see the full article Here.


The Passion flowers and its mysteries

Posted April 2014

The genera Passiflora, known commonly as the passionflower.  known by Native Americans since before the time of the Spanish conquest by other names. The first Spanish explorers did not know these plants and began to call "passion fruit" because its fruit reminded them of pomegranate (Punica granatum), a European species. Shortly after, the same Spanish (especially the Catholic missionaries), aided by creative and amazing imagination, suggested that the forms and structures of the flowers were a representation of the passion and suffering of Christ.  This religious symbolism was spread over time, until in 1737 the famous Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus decided to use as Passiflora genera name (Tillet 1988 Kugler & King 2004).

According to the religious interpretation of the flower, each party represents some aspect of the crucifixion of Christ:

  • The crown of filaments: the crown of thorns
  • The three styles and stigmas: the three nails
  • The androgynophore: flogging column
  • The five stamens: the five wounds of Christ on the cross
  • Leaves: the spears which pierced the side
  • The glands of the leaves: the 30 pieces of silver that Judas received for betraying Jesus.

Passiflora lingularis Granadilla FLAAR roof Westcott Metz ring Jul 26 2015 1937Passiflora lingularis, Granadilla

Over time you were adding other aspects and interpretations of history.

These flowers are found in warmer areas, mostly tropics, throughout the world. Passionflower extracts have been classified into several categories of chemical activity: anxiolytic, spasmolytic, hypnotic, sedative, narcotic and anodyne (Ozarko 2001).

In a field expedition, when I was looking species of passionflower, a farmer told me that when people have insomnia uses flowers to sleep. Other people use the flowers in tea or soup to reduce stress and to sleep for many hours without being interrupted.

On this trip I had the opportunity to see P. quadrangularis and P. ligularis in wildlife because we are informally cooperating with Armando Caceres, author of medicinal plants of Guatemala and he provided where the plants are.

Importantly, many pasiflora species growing on non-native Guatemala. For example we have in our garden four species of Passiflora and none is native to Guatemala, belonging to South America.

MacDougal, J. M.

1983      Revision of Passiflora L.  section Pseudodysosmia (Harms) Killip emend. J.
MacDougal, the hooked trichome group (Passifloraceae). Ph.D. dissertation, Duke University,  Durham, North Carolina

 Ozarko, G.

2001.     Passiflora. http://www.ion.com.au/~iridology/Passiflora.html



Tobacco flowers are handsome garden plants

Posted April 2013

We at FLAAR institute are studying tobacco of the Maya and Aztec. As part of our project we are raising tobacco plants (not to smoke ourselves but to appreciate the natural beauty of their flowers).

Tobacco and the various other leaves used by the Maya of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Mexico, and El Salvador are a traditional indigenous cultural feature of importance in their medicine and religion.

tobacco red

Tobacco red night black background Westcott photo by Sofia Monzon.

Plus most of the ingredients of Maya and Aztec snuff and cigars have gorgeous flowers. Although I do not smoke myself already at age 19 I had discovered a Maya vase showing a person smoking a cigar (a 9th century vase in the Tomb of the Jade Jaguar which I discovered while a student at Harvard doing archaeological work for the University of Pennsylvania Museum at Tikal, El Peten, Guatemala).

Plus while doing research in the archives of Sevilla, Spain and Guatemala CIty, on the Spanish documents describing the Cholti Lacandon Maya cigars I learned more about this venerable tradition.

n other words, it is important to understand the natural beauty associated with tobacco and its several thousand years association with the advanced cultures of prehispanic Mesoamerica.


Izabal area is great for botanical research

Posted Jan. 2, 2013

A lot of botanical research tends to be done in the "Maya area" of Peten. Yet over the last year we have found that Izabal, and adjacent Alta Verapaz, offer considerable diversity of eco-systems to allow finding lots of the utilitarian plants which we seek.

Achiote Flower, photographed by Nicholas Hellmuth

Bixa orellana, the seed of this plant is used in our day to flavor foods, the Mayans used to make chocolate as a flavoring too, photographed by Nicholas Hellmuth.

Our goal is to locate, and photograph (when flowering or fruiting) as many of the plants in our list of utilitarian plants of the Mayan people.

We will be spending the coming week in Izabal, starting with the Frutas del Mundo facilities about 20 minutes before Rio Dulce. Dwight Carter has developed a great place to do botanical research here.

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Parque Nacional Yaxha, Nakum and Naranjo

Botanical Terms

Smartphone Camera Reviews

Fungi and Lichens

Consulting cacao & Theobroma species

Tobacco Ingredients of Aztec & Maya

Bombacaceae, Bombacoideae

Plants and trees used to produce incense

Camera Reviews for Photographing Flowers and Plants

Flowers native to Guatemala visible now around the world

Ethnobotany site page Donations acknowled Botton DONATE NOW


Fruits (typical misnomer mishmash of Spanish language)

Fruits (vines or cacti)

Flowers, sacred

Plants or trees that are used to produce incense

We Thank Gitzo, 90% of the photographs of plants, flowers and trees in Guatemala are photographed using a Gitzo tripod, available from Manfrotto Distribution.
We thank Hoodman, All images on this site are taken with RAW CF memory cards courtesy of Hoodman.
Pachira aquatica, zapoton, zapote bobo, crucial sacred flower for Maya archaeologists and iconographers
Read article on Achiote, Bixa orellana, annatto, natural plant dye for coloring (and flavoring) food (especially cacao drink) in Guatemala and Mexico.
Read article on Cuajilote or Caiba: Parmentiera aculeata, a forgotten fruit.
Read article on Split leaf philodendron, Monstera deliciosa.
Read article on Gonolobus, an edible vine from Asclepiadaceae Family.
Pachira aquatica, zapoton, zapote bobo, crucial sacred flower for Maya archaeologists and iconographers
Flor de Mayo,Plumeria rubia, plumeria alba, plumeria obtusa. Edible flower used to flavor cacao
Guanaba, annona squamosa, Chincuya, Annona purpurea, Sugar apple, Chirimoya

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