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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Panorama photography equipment options for national parks: reviews & recommendations; and also tips of what to avoid.

Posted December 31, 2018

The beauty and attractiveness of this large national park is much more than archaeological remains of pyramids, temples, palaces, ballcourts, acropolises, plazas, causeways (Sacbe), etc.

Yaxha Acropolis

Click to enlarge image.
Lots of plants out there. Lots of Mayan pyramids buried under these trees and vines. But just imagine how many awesome tropical flowers you can find during the season these trees flower (March, April, May and many other months).

Botanist Cyrus Lundell estimated there were 2,000 plants in the central Peten rain forests. Other botanists suggest there are over 200 species of trees. The other 1800 plants are vines, orchids, bromeliads, and plants of the shores, marshes, and bogs. So there is huge potential for botanical research at Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo.

In the 1970’s I spent five years doing the map of all the monumental architecture plus the smaller house mounds. But today (2018-2019) I come to Yaxha to study the neo-tropical flora and fauna of this park.

In the long run it will be essential to do aerial photography, preferably with a helicopter, since here you can use high-resolution cameras. Drones will pester local birds and 90% of the cameras on drones are simple point-and-shoot and overly wide-angle: cameras for bikers and hikers on their weekend and vacation adventures. We prefer serious photography, so we use a Nikon D5 and a Canon EOS 1DX Mark II camera.

But until we find a helpful individual or company with a helicopter who can donate photo opportunities, we show the remarkable rain forest with panoramas taken from the top of pyramids and acropolises at Yaxha and Nakum. We hope to get back to Naranjo and do panoramic photograph there with archaeologists Vilma Fialko, Raul Noriega and their capable team.

We have L-shaped panorama tripod heads (Bogen 3288 (Manfrotto 340)). We have the second-generation GigaPan, the most awesome panorama camera yet invented. Plus already in the 1990’s we had the BetterLight tri-linear scanner large-format digital panoramic camera system.

At Photokina 2016 we spent quality time in the NOVOFLEX booth; they have a diverse range of L-shaped panorama equipment with quality Made in Germany. But until their equipment is available to evaluate, we will be writing about the L-shaped Bogen 3288 (Manfrotto 340) on a Manfrotto 303PLUS panoramic photography head system and the GigaPan panorama photography systems.

Nakum Forest Maya Peten Landscape

Click to enlarge image.
We close this peek into the rain forests of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo with another panorama by the FLAAR Mesoamerica photography team. All these photos are to show the world the natural beauty that you can experience here.

The hotel Ecolodge El Sombrero has many of the same trees over the hotel restaurant and directly in front of your hotel room. This hotel is at the entrance to the park, to the left directly at the entrance gates.




Terrestrial orchids, 2 species, Senahu, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala

Posted Dec. 27, 2018

Since Alta Verapaz has significantly higher humidity than Peten you get even more orchids, bromeliads, and other epiphytes. But Alta Verapaz also has terrestrial orchids. One, red-orange, is very common. It grows as a “roadside weed” along most rural unpaved roads around Senahu and many other areas of Alta Verapaz.

We found lots of this terrestrial orchid blooming on Christmas Day (yes, I work almost every day of the year, including my birthday, New Year’s, etc; there are so many plants and pollinators and eco-systems to learn about, I don’t want to waste a day).

Terrestrial-orchids-2-species-Senahu-Alta_Verapaz-Guatemala-FLAAR-Mesoamerica Terrestrial-orchids-2-species-Senahu-Alta_Verapaz-Guatemala-FLAAR-Mesoamerica

Click here to enlarge image
Camera NIKON D810, Nikon AF-Micro-NIKKOR 200mm f/4D IF-ED Macro, f/13 speed 1/250, ISO 4000, photo by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth

Click here to enlarge image
Camera NIKON D810, Nikon AF-Micro-NIKKOR 200mm f/4D IF-ED Macro, f/13 speed 1/250, ISO 6400, photo by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth

Senaida Ba, our Q’eqchi’ Mayan plant identifier and photo assistant told me she had also seen terrestrial orchids similar in color and size to the aquatic Bletia purpurea that we found in a dozen areas around Lake Yaxha, Peten. We found this pink-purple orchid blooming on the same roadside hills as the red-orange ones.

Difference is that the pink-purple ones had no leaves: literally, the flower stalk came straight out of the ground. Senaida found one place where all the flowers had wilted but there was a set of leaves.

We will send these photos to orchid experts to make sure we have a proper name before we add the name to an update of this news item.




Gorgeous flowers of happy parasitic vine at Yaxha, Peten

Posted Dec. 19, 2018

Yaxha lake north shore below camp Psittacanthus species parasitic vine orange flower

Camera Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, lens 300mm, f/0, f/2.8 speed 1/400, ISO 500, photo by Alejandra Gutierrez

This week we are back in Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo (Peten, Guatemala) to continue research on flora and fauna. Since we are not aware of any studies of parasitic vines at Tikal or Yaxha or other national parks in recent years, we are working on making a list of all the treetop vines.

Psittacanthus is one of a dozen treetop vines, but this one is a parasite. Orchids and bromeliads are not parasites. Since the vine is so high in trees we have to use 600mm, 800mm, and 1000mm telephoto lenses, and even then we can’t capture an individual bunch of flowers. Much to our surprise, the last week of November we found a Psittacanthus vine flowering down at eye-level, so we could do close-ups. Here are samples.

Yaxha lake north shore below camp Psittacanthus species parasitic vine orange flower

Camera NIKON D810, lens 105.0 mm, f/3.0, f/9 speed 1/100, ISO 1000, photo by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth

We estimate this is either Psittacanthus macrantherus, Psittacanthus auriculatus or Psittacanthus calyculatus. Each species is slightly different colors depending on whether in Oaxaca, or Belize or Peten, and how long the flower has been open (so you see no yellow on the Psittacanthus here). We will update this page as soon as a botanist with experience with Family Loranthaceae of Mesoamerica can communicate with us.

You can experience these flowers in many locations of the park, especially near Grupo Maler and Blom Sacbe. Pleasant hotel at park entrance is nice place to stay: Ecolodge El Sombrero.




Pachira aquatica, zapoton, pumpo blooming for Happy Holidays 2018

Posted Dec. 17, 2018

Pachira aquatica zapoton pumpo Guatemala edible fruit

Click here to enlarge image
Camera NIKON D810, lens 200mm, f/4, f/11.0 speed 1/250, ISO 500, photo by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth

About 7 to 9 years ago, I planted seeds of zapoton from the Costa Sur (sea level) in our FLAAR Mayan Ethnobotanical Research Garden, at 1500 meters above sea level. This week I was so happy to see it bloom for the first time. What a great Christmas present for my heart and soul to see this flower (roughly comparable to structure of flowers it its relatives Ceiba aesculifolia and Pseudobombax ellipticum).

The city’s main botanical garden, just a few kilometers away, has the same tree happily blooming every year, so I knew that it would survive the colder climate, higher altitude, and lack of growing along a stream or lake.

Pachira aquatica grows along Rio Dulce, Lake Izabal, Rio San Pedro (Peten) and the aguadas behind Tikal’s visitors center. We are now searching for Pachira aquatica along the Rio Ixtinto, Rio Holmul, and Lake Yaxha (all part of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo).




Just identified an additional large bromeliad: Nakum, Peten, Guatemala

Posted Dec 13, 2018

Aechmea bromeliifolia at Yaxha

Click here to enlarge image
Camera NIKON D810, lens 200mm, f/4, f/10.0 speed 1/50, ISO 100, photo by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth

We have found and identified most of the really large bromeliads at Yaxha and Topoxte Island. Then I noticed that our photos of a bromeliad from Aug 14th had not been identified.

Turns out it's Aechmea bromeliifolia. Now that we know it's at Nakum and blooming in August (2018) we need to return in August 2019 and find it at Yaxha, Topoxte Island, Naranjo, etc.

We continue to search the Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo for large bromeliad species and all the other undocumented plants of this part of Central America.




Are there wild orchid species in Guatemala that are aquatic?

Updated Dec. 5, 2018,
first edition posted Nov 2, 2018

When you visit Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo you will see “wild orchids everywhere.” Having worked at Yaxha mapping the ruins with archaeologist Miguel Orrego and team, over a 5-year project of FLAAR research and educational institute (1970-1974), I know that most of the orchids are up in the trees.

From my research on orchids worldwide I also am aware that there are terrestrial orchids (we have them wild on our Hellmuth family farm in the Missouri Ozarks). And a few orchids in other parts of the world spend much of their life “underground.” In other words, there are “orchids in most eco-systems except the frozen Antarctica and in the sand dunes of the Middle East.”

But are their “aquatic orchids?” Do some orchids “grow on water?”

I raise this question since while courtesy of the IDAEH-CONAP boat of the park, on 31 October this year (2018), I noticed dark-pink lavender flowers among the reeds out in the water a few meters from the shore. When I saw a second patch I asked the boat captain to stop so I could see what plant was floating along with the mass of roots of the reeds that are in many areas along the north shore.

One of the park rangers (Teco, Moises Daniel Pérez Díaz, who accompanied us) said that these were indeed orchids and that he had seen them before. The leaves are comparable size and shape to hundreds of other orchid species (all of which grow high up on trees).

But back in camp, everyone told us the logical answer: “maybe these have just fallen on top of the reeds because the branches of large trees stretch out several meters over the lake shore area?” Plus dozens of trees (whose branches often have orchids) along the shore fall into the lake every year because the soil is only a few centimeters deep (below is limestone, since this is an area of karst geology). So every rainstorm lots of trees fall over. Their branches are covered with bromeliads, orchids, arboreal cacti, and parasitic vines (with beautiful flowers).

But the orchids that I found are NOT fallen from tree trunks or tree limbs. These orchids are at water level. In November we even found lots of freshly germinated young orchid plants, just a few millimeters high (since there are mature flowering orchids of this water-related species every several meters along the north shore of Lake Yaxha).

Now that we found this “aquatic orchid” we learn from our research that the jargon is “bog orchid” or “swamp orchid,” although in this case at Yaxha it is not a swamp and not a bog: it is near (but not over) the shore area of the lake. However you could consider the first two or three meters a kind of swamp-like ecosystem because of all the roots and fallen reeds that create their own ecosystem on which these orchids are very happy.

Since no one believed that “water orchids” existed, we returned to Yaxha in late November and learned a lot more. These are indeed water related. Obviously they don’t float on the surface independently like water lily pads: instead the orchids grow from the base of reeds whose root mass floats on the surface. In some cases the lake is 5 meters deep underneath the reed 20 cm deep reed root mass (and decayed fallen reeds); in other cases I could wade out and only have my body 2 to 4 feet deep in the water (to study the position of the roots in and above the water level you need to stand in front of them at eye level).

We (FLAAR Mesoamerica) go to Yaxha at least one week every month all year: so we hope to see you there. We will be looking for additional species of “aquatic orchids” since there are indeed seasonal swamps in other areas of the park.

We now have a list of all water-related orchids found in other lakes in Peten and adjacent Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Quintana Roo and are making a list of water-associated orchids of Belize. We estimate that there may be several of these species in Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo (all the more reason to visit Lake Yaxha and Rio Ixtinto next to Topoxte Island).

If you are like to study orchids, if you like to experience something in nature you have never in your life seen or heard of before, then come to visit Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo. Hotel Ecolodge El Sombrero is where we stay and Gabriella, the owner, knows plants, animals, and archaeology since she has been in the Yaxha area for many decades.

There is one additional genus of orchids which also float over the surface on aquatic material. This other genus of water-related orchids is list for most lakes, rivers, and aquatic areas around the El Peten area of Guatemala: in order words, it is only a matter of time before we can find a second, and maybe a third, water-related orchid.

So if you like to experience orchids out in the wild, far from a greenhouse, if you or your company or association or a foundation where you know board members could provide funding for our field trips, then we can return to Lake Yaxha find all the other water-related and also the terrestrial orchids on the shore adjacent to the lake and associated Rio Ixtinto. Plus you and your family or friends can join us on a field trip to Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo.




Merremia tuberosa vine flowers open in FLAAR garden

Posted Nov 21, 2018

Merremia tuberosa flower Merremia tuberosa flower

9:37 am
Nikon D810, 200mm,
f/13.0, 1/200, ISO 800

9:47 pm
Nikon D810, 200mm, f/13.0,
1/200, ISO 6400

The two best documented flowers that contain chemicals that vulcanize latex from native Maya rubber tree Castilla elastica bloom in the FLAAR Mayan Ethnobotanical Research Garden. Ethnobotanist Dr Suzanne Cook has documented that the juice, from both these vines, is used by the Lacandon Maya of Chiapas, Mexico to create viable rubber.

The Olmec 3500 years ago and the Maya 1500 years ago used these vines to make latex sap into rubber that could bounce (for the rubber ball game balls, for example). MIT researcher Michael J. Tarkanian has done actual experiments (in Chiapas, Mexico) with Ipomoea alba with Castilla elastica for his B.S. and M.S. theses.

We (FLAAR, USA and FLAAR Mesoamerica, Guatemala) estimate that Merremia tuberosa may grow also in the Yaxha park. We also feel that other "morning glory vines" may also have chemicals to vulcanize rubber. So every month we visit Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo to update the lists of plants to find all utilitarian plants that would have helped the Classic Maya for thousands of years at Yaxha, Nakum, Naranjo, Topoxte Island and all the other sites around the park areas.




Ecosystems, National Parks, Amazing Plants and Animals of Guatemala

Posted Nov. 12, 2018

Lecture by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth, Friday, November 30, 2018; Coban, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, as part of the I CONGRESO ECOLÓGICO DE ALTA VERAPAZ (in honor of Parque Nacional Laguna Lachua).

Click to download full itinerary

This lecture will show high-resolution photographs of giant birds in flight (at Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo). Will show awesome beautiful bright colored flowers of parasitic plants and remarkable pineapple-related bromeliads (terrestrial).

The final slide will be an aquatic orchid in full bloom: literally, an orchid about 2 meters from the shores of Lake Yaxha.

This orchid is NOT fallen from a tree; this is a kind of “bog orchid” or “swamp orchid” associated with the tall grass-like vegetation along the shores of many lakes. This orchid, to our knowledge, is not in any botanical book of orchids of Guatemala. It is not, we repeat, it is not an orchid fallen from a tree: it literally grows up from the roots of water plants. We found it in more than six different locations.

If you return to this web site in about 2 days we will have a preview that you can download (sample slides from the Powerpoint presentation). We hope to see you in Coban, Alta Verapaz on November 30th.

If you are interested in jaguars of Central America, on the home page of www.maya-archaeology.org you can download a sample of the lecture by Hellmuth at a jaguar conference last week.

If you can’t get to Coban, Dr Hellmuth can present either or both these lectures in your city anywhere in the world.

In case you are attending the expo, here is a map with the location of the event and the Hotel Monja Blanca where Dr Hellmuth is staying.




Arboreal cactus vine, nocturnal flower opening at night

Posted Nov 9, 2018

Selenicereus testudo blooming Selenicereus testudo bloomin

5:24 pm
Bud is so plump that it is obvious that it will open this same evening.

6:36 pm
After two hours of photography every 5 to 10 minutes, the flower finally begins to open more dramatically.

Selenicereus testudo blooming Selenicereus testudo bloomin

6:46 pm

7:21 pm

Selenicereus testudo blooming Selenicereus testudo bloomin

The flower at 7:44 pm, about 98% open.

7:51 pmm

Selenicereus testudo is the most common arboreal cactus plant at Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo. In all the diverse eco-systems we have, so far, not located one single solitary terrestrial cactus plant: not even any Opuntia. So there are scores of native terrestrial cacti species in the Rio Motagua dry zone and the Rio Sacapulas dry zones of Guatemala. But zero in Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo (however if we or anyone else finds a wild terrestrial cactus plant, we will be glad to revise this conclusion).

Selenicereus testudo is easy to find among the Mayan ruins of Yaxha, Topoxte Island, Nakum, and Naranjo. Its roots do not need to be in the ground.

The flowers we find at Yaxha are very very similar to Hylocereus costaricensis, but that other Pitaya is native to the southern part of Central America (Costa Rica and Nicaragua).

We will present the series of scores of time-lapse photos in a PDF format by next week. In the meantime, here are three photos showing the first, middle, and final phase of opening of this night-blooming tree cactus.



Another photogenic terrestrial bromeliad of Peten, Guatemala

Posted Oct. 15, 2018

Bromelia pinguin ripening fruits Naranjo

Click to open complete photo .
Photographed by Nicholas Hellmuth with the remarkable camera in the brand new Apple iPhone Xs.

Bromeliads tend to grow up in trees; they use the branches and forks in the tree for support. A photogenic example on Topoxte Island (Lake Yaxha), Yaxha ruins, and Nakum ruins areas is Aechmea bracteata. These bromeliads are not parasites.

But there are several genera of bromeliads which are terrestrial (they live only on the ground). Some are solitary or if in a group, only a few (Bromelia karatas) but others occur in massive colonies of hundred(s) of plants. Aechmea magdalenae is found in literally masses, around seasonal aguadas (seasonal waterholes). Teco helped us find two such impressive areas between Yaxha and Nakum.

A week ago, while driving between the Naranjo section of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo, Q’eqchi-Mayan plant scout, Pedro Chub Choc, of the FLAAR Mesoamerica, saw a previously unseen mass of unknown bromeliads with a mass of plum-sized fruits directly along the edge of the road. Our research team was able to identify these as Bromelia pinguin.

The spiny leaves help this Bromelia pinguin plant be a popular “living fence” since neither animals nor people will cross a row of these spiny plants. But they are mainly in extremely dry areas: Jocotan or the Motagua River dry areas (km 50 to 100). Thus I was very surprised to find Bromelia pinguin wild in Peten.

One of our goals in the Yaxha Nakum Naranjo national park is to make a list of as many of the unique plants as possible. Even though this thicket of bromeliads is outside the park, now that we know its eco-system (surprisingly, on a low hill, NOT in an aguada area), we can try to find the same species within the park. We believe they can be found between Yaxha and Nakum, though the eco-system there is not hilly, but dry seasonally wet “aguada-like” areas. More to come after we do further research.

If you enjoy seeing photogenic and exotic plants, consider visiting Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo, Peten, Guatemala. You can stay at the hotel Ecolodge El Sombrero (and if you are clever to be there same days as Dr Hellmuth and the FLAAR team are there, you can have dinner and ask questions).


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Botanical Terms

Ecosystems, Wetlands Aquatic Plants

Smartphone Camera Reviews

Fungi and Lichens

Consulting cacao & Theobroma species

Tobacco Ingredients of Aztec & Maya

Plants and trees used to produce incense

Camera Reviews for Photographing Flowers and Plants

Trees with conical Spines

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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