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, Guatemala, FLAAR Mayan ethnobotanical garden, Jun 1, 2017, by Nicholas Hellmuth

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Cacao chocolate flavoring Sterculia apetala flowers seeds Aztec Panama tree

Flavoring for cacao of the Aztec and Maya

The flowers of Sterculia apetala are attractive and the seed pod is a memorable size, shape, and hardness. This web page introduces this tree, it’s flowers and seed pods. Although the tree has many utilitarian uses, the one I am most interested in is as a flavoring for cacao drink of the Aztec and Maya a thousand years ago.

Sterculia-apetala-Castano-Flower-Frutas-Mundo-Sofia-Momzon-maya-ethnobotanySterculia apetala Castaño Flower Photo by Sofia Momzon

The seeds can be eaten raw or cooked and provide flavor and an additional stimulant to cacao drink (http://foroantiguo.infojardin.com).

In English it is called popcorn flower

Brief description: local names

This is the national tree of Panama, so not surprisingly is named the Panama tree. The local name in Guatemala is castaño. It is also named “cacao de monte” (commercial timbers web site). Yet I see nothing whatsoever in this tree, or the flowers, or seed pods, which is even remotely similar to cacao.

We have found Sterculia apetala

  • At Copan Ruinas (las Sepulturas), flowering…
  • At the cloverleaf interchange of the highway from Escuintla to Monterrico, flowering about November (2012).
  • At Frutas del Mundo, flowering in the month of…

Uses other than flavoring and medicinal: to make soap

Sterculia-apetala-Castano-Flower-Frutas-Mundo-Sofia-monzon-images-maya-ethnobotany-flaarSterculia apetalaCastaño Flower Photo by Sofia Momzon

Seeds are edible and their oil can be used in the production of a soap.

Medicinal Plant

There are thousands of Mesoamerican plants with medicinal uses. Many people might try the processed leaves of this tree to prevent hair loss (http://manualparaguias).

Living Fence from Sterculia apetala

Many tropical trees grow readily and fast from cuttings, so these are used to make a living fence. The most common are:

  • Alnus jorullensis, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Trees, p. 44
  • Caesalpinia velutina, near Zacapa (www.worldagroforestry.org/treedb2/speciesprofile.php?Spid=17960)
  • Cordia truncatifolia, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Trees, p. 260
  • Cochlospermum vitifolium, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Trees, p. 236
  • Bursera species, Palo jiote, gumbo limbo
  • Lonchocarpus minimiflorus, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Trees, p. 486
  • Madre de Cacao
  • Erythrina many species

So I was surprised to see Sterculia apetala listed as a living fence (Guerra 2009: 104).

Sterculia apetala is used to attract bees (to make honey)

Listed as a “honey plant” (USDA Forest Service” because the flowers attract bees.

Seed pod of Sterculia apetala is woody and remarkable shape

Dried seed pods are often kept as souvenirs. Here is one from the Rio Dulce area of Izabal, Guatemala.

Sterculia-apetala-Castano-Flower-Frutas-Mundo-Sofia-MomzonSterculia apetala Castaño Flower, Frutas del Mundo, photo by Sofia Monzon.

We had an opportunity to experience lots of flowers and seed pods of Sterculia apetala from Las Sepulturas, Copan Ruinas, Honduras.

Sterculia apetala (Jacq.) Karst.

Flowers February, March, April (OFI-CATIE, pages 895)

Flowers in Izabal area, Guatemala, elevation circa 50 meters, late December (2012) and early January (2013)

Flowered in Copan Ruinas, Honduras…. So it is worth noting that the flowering times we see it are totally different than the flowering times provided by respected monographs on trees.

In Panama flowers from November to March (www.ForestGeneration.com) which is closer to what we found in Guatemala.

What can be learned is no surprise: each tree, in a different eco-system, may bloom at a different time. And it is not unusual that a tree will bloom depending on the rainfall and temperature situation of that particular year (which may vary from the previous year).

Bibliography

  • BARRANCE, A.
  • 2003
  • Árboles de Centroamérica: un manual para extensionistas. Bib. Orton IICA / CATIE. 1079 pages.
  • Most of this book is available on-line, but tree by tree. It takes a long time to get the whole opus together (and is a rather large file). In the book itself it says OFI-CATIE.

  • CORDERO, J. and D. H. BOSHIER (editors)
  • 2003
  • Árboles de Centroamérica: un Manual para Extensionistas (Trees of Central America: a Manual for Extentionists). OFI-CATIE, pages 893-896.
  • CHÍZMAR FERNANDEZ, CARLA
  • 2009
  • Plantas comestibles de Centroamerica. Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad, INBio, Costa Rica. 360 pages.
  • GUERRA TORRE, CARLOS P.
  • 2009
  • Historia natural del árbol Panama, Sterculia apetala (Jacq.) H. Karst. 101-106.
  • HOLDRIDGE, L. R. and POVEDA, L. J.
  • 1975
  • Arboles de Costa Rica. Vol. I. Centro Cientifico Tropical, San Jose, Costa Rica. 545 pages.

First posted March 11, 2013.

 
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Consulting cacao & Theobroma species

Tobacco Ingredients of Aztec & Maya

Tropical Nuts

Spices, condiments, food coloring

Underutilized edible plants

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

SUBJECTS TO BE COVERED DURING NEXT 6 MONTHS

Fruits (typical misnomer mishmash of Spanish language)

Fruits (vines or cacti)

Flavoring, herbs, and spices

Flowers, sacred

Plants which are sacred

Plants or trees that are used to produce incense

Most common introduced plants (not native)

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 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

 

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