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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Rosita de cacao flowers, Quararibea funebris, funeral tree, molinillo is a major flavoring of cacao but can also be smoked!

Molinillo, Rosita de Cacao, Quararibea funebris, Tikal, Guatemala
Molinillo, Rosita de Cacao, Quararibea funebris, Tikal, Guatemala

This FLAAR Report introduces the multifaceted Quararibea funebris, found in many areas of Guatemala but so far we have found only one single tree, in the Parque Nacional Tikal.

The best known local name is molinillo. Molinillo means it is the spoon which stirs something (in this case the cacao). Also called batidor and Sapotillo.

Another nickname, madre de cacao, really means any tree that is commonly used as shade for cacao orchids or plantations. It is typical in Spanish that several totally different trees end up with the same name. So Gliricidia sepium is also named madre de cacao (and Gliricidia sepium is also a flavoring for chocolate). But Gliricidia sepium is not named rosita de cacao. So I will tend to use the word madre de cacao for Gliricidia sepium and will call Quararibea funebris rosita de cacao or molinillo.

Molinillo Rosita de cacao Quararibea funebris cacao chocolate flavoring
Quararibea funebris, Molinillo Rosita de cacao, cacao chocolate flavoring. Parque Nacional Tikal, El Peten, Guatemala.

Quararibea funebris, fragrance and taste

In three years search we have found only one single tree, at the Parque Nacional Tikal. And this one tree, which we have visited on several occasions throughout the year, was blooming only one time (March 22, 2013). It had only one single solitary flower on the entire mature tree that day!

But one is better than none, and we show the flower here. Molinillo trees are reportedly common in the Oaxaca area (http://toptropicals.com/html/toptropicals/plant_wk/quararibea.html)

The smell was impactful. I would rate it as the most tasty fragrance of anything that I have experienced other than nutmeg (or Virola), other than Brugmansia, and other than night blooming jasmine (a common garden plant throughout Guatemala).

We do not tend to taste-test the plants or flowers that we study (especially not Brugmansia). But we definitely do enjoy having a smell-test.

Although there are many spices for Maya foods, we focus on finding more Quararibea funebris. One of our staff felt there were several Quararibea funebris trees at Candelaria Campo Santo. But the people we asked did not recognize the names Rosita de cacao or molinillo. Perhaps we need to find the Q’ekchi or at least the Itza Maya name for this tree.

Funeral tree: molinillo flowers are used in burials

Besides flavoring chocolate and making desserts, the native peoples used the plant for preserving food and bodies. The fragrance stays in dry flowers for decades, thus they were used for funeral ceremonies and were found in crypts still fragrant after many years. This feature of the flower gave another common name to the plant - Funeral Tree (http://toptropicals.com/html/toptropicals/plant_wk/quararibea.html).

As typical on the Internet, this web site blissfully neglects to cite the source of the above information.

Species names; family names; sub-family designation: constant changes

Botanists write articles every decade or so changing the family names and species names. We are so busy looking for the trees out in the tropical forests and swamps that we have little time to keep up with what occupies all the capable scholars back in their universities. So we stick to the basic names. Future scholars will rewrite everything anyway, now that you can do DNA analysis of plants.

Molinillo Rosita de cacao Quararibea funebris cacao chocolate flavoring
Quararibea funebris, Molinillo Rosita de cacao, cacao chocolate flavoring. Parque Nacional Tikal, El Peten, Guatemala

But we are aware that many botanists no longer consider Bombacaceae as a legitimate separate family. These botanists prefer to create a subfamily Bombacoideae within the family Malvaceae.

Various species exist but the most common one is Quararibea funebris

Veliz (2000) found a new subspecies of Quararibea yunckeri subsp. izabalensis on the Sierra Santa Cruz and reports it to be simpatric with Q. funebris. His article is especially useful as he carefully and clearly shows on a map precisely where he found each group of trees. But the primary tree that is available to study throughout the Maya area is Quararibea funebris.

  • Quararibea funebris (Parker 2008:104-105).
  • Quararibea fieldii (mostly but not exclusively in Yucatan)
  • Quararibea yunckeri (Parker 2008:105).

Keep in mind that Parker’s monograph is almost totally a compilation of copy-and-paste from all the Standley and Steyermark and other botanical field work monographs. Although she was indeed in Guatemala and hence had local knowledge potentially available, her work appears still to be a compliation and not additional new field work.

Arboles del Mundo Maya lists

  • Quararibea fieldii
  • Quararibea funebris
  • Quararibea gentlei
  • Quararibea guatemalteca

But says nothing about any species other than Quararibea funebris. The text has an unexpected note that “similar species” are Virola and Compsoneura. Virola is a remarkable fruit, identical in size, shape, and color to a close relative from Asia, nutmeg. Could be Compsoneura sprucei (A.DC.) Warb. or Compsoneura mexicana (Hemsl.) Janovec. Both Virola and Compsoneura have blood-red sap, but I am not yet familiar with the sap of Quararibea funebris. I do not associate blood red sap with any Bombacoideae.

Pennington and Sarukhan list only Quararibea funebris and do not give any uses other than as flavoring for cacao and posol (1968:298).

Parker’s complilation indicates that Quararibea gentlei and Quararibea guatemalteca are synonyms of Quararibea funebris (2008:104-105).

General situation of rosita de cacao in Mesoamerica

Quararibea is a genus (originally) listed as a genus within the Bombacaceae family, the same as the Ceiba tree, the are two main groups branching in this family one is composed of species with compound leaves and the other with simple leaves. Quararibea belongs to the simple leaves group. (Gentry 1996).

Standley and Steyermarki ( 1949) describe the species in The Flora of Guatemala:

Quararibea funebris (Llave) Vischer, Bull. Soc. Bot. Geneve II. 11: 205. 1919. Lexarza funebris Llave in Llave & Lex. Nov. Veg. Descr. 2: 12. 1825. Myrodia funebris Benth. Journ. Linn. Soc. Bot. 6: 115. 1862. Molenillo.”

Molinillo Rosita de cacao Quararibea funebris cacao chocolate flavoring
Quararibea funebris, Molinillo Rosita de cacao, cacao chocolate flavoring.

Moist or wet forest, 2,100 meters or lower, often in thickets or forest along stream banks; Santa Rosa; Escuintla; Suchitepequez; Retalhuleu; Quiche"; Huehuetenango. Southern Mexico; Salvador; Nicaragua.

A shrub or small tree, in Guatemala seldom more than 10 meters tall, sometimes attaining a height of 20 meters, the trunk sometimes 30 cm. in diameter, the branches often somewhat pendent, the crown broad and depressed, the branchlets minutely stellate-lepidote; leaves short-petiolate, oblong to oval or elliptic, sometimes oblong-obovate, mostly 15-25 cm. long and 6-10 cm. wide, often larger, obtuse to short-acuminate, rounded or obtuse at the base, glabrous except for the small dense tufts of hairs beneath in the nerve axils; flowers mostly solitary, the pedicels 2 cm. long or less; calyx about 2 cm. long, turbinate, greenish, minutely tomentulose, the lobes very short; petals white, thinly tomentulose, recurved and about equaling the calyx, narrowly lance-oblong; stamen tube twice as long as the calyx, stellate-puberulent; ovary 4-celled; fruit globose, mostly enclosed in the persistent calyx.

Called "canela" in Veracruz, and known in other parts of Mexico as "flor de cacao," "madre de cacao," and "rosa de cacao"; the Nahuatl name was "cacahuaxochitl" ("cacao flower"). The species was described from a tree growing at Izucar, Puebla, Mexico, to which it is said that the Indians formerly resorted "to mourn their dead." Just what this may mean is uncertain, but the tree evidently had some religious significance. The fragrant flowers are added to "pozonque," a cold beverage made from cacao, to flavor it. In Costa Rica the young shoots of some species of Quararibea, with their whorls of side branches, are used to make molenillos, utensils with which chocolate and other beverages are beaten to a froth. The wood in this genus is chalky white or slightly yellowish, not highly lustrous, subject to blue-stain; sapwood not clearly defined; rather hard and heavy, straight-grained, medium-textured; tough and strong, easy to work, takes a smooth finish, is not durable when exposed.”

So far I have not found Quararibea in 90% of the reports on Q’eqchi language and culture and even in PhD dissertations on ethnobotany of the Q’eqchi. Yet surely this tree grows throughout Belize and must be somewhere in Alta Verapaz as well.

The tree is actually relatively common throughout Peten: not in terms of thousands of trees in any one location, but being listed in many eco-systems.

Names for Quararibea funebris in English:

Funeral tree, bass, swivel stick tree, swizzle stick tree (Belize). Elsewhere I found funeral tree by itself (so not “funeral swizzle stick tree”).

Names for Quararibea funebris in Spanish:

bastidos, batidos (Belize); canela (Mexico); cincho, coco mama (Belize); cocomama, cocomana (Honduras); flor de cacao (Mexico); garroche (Costa Rica); madre de cacao, maricacao, molinillo (Mexico); moro (Guatemala); palanco (Costa Rica); palo capado, palo de molinillo (Mexico); pataste (Nicaragua).

Remember that in Guatemala Pataxte means Theobroma bicolor, a close relative of cacao (Theobroma cacao).

Name for Quararibea funebris in Mayan

To make more complete lists in the languages of Mesoamerica we need a grant or funding for a linguist, but in the meantime, we have the name in two languages. Surprisingly the name is very similar both in the Highlands of Chiapas and Lowlands of central Peten.

  • majáz (Tzeltal. Pennington and Sarukhan 1968:298).
  • Aj maja’as (Itza Maya, Atran et al 2004:210

Name for Quararibea funebris in Nahuatl



Cacahuaxochitl = flower of cacao

Xochicacahuatl = precious flower

For Poyomatli or poyomaxochitl there is no common agreement as to which flower is the correct translation. But whatever flower it was must have had impactful effects.

Practical uses, other than symbolic

Called funeral tree because the flower is used as a fragrance for burials. Since a human body might tend to smell rather rancid in the tropics (even with all the local substances to preserve it at least a day or so), you can calculate that a really sweet smelling flower would help during burial.

Would be fascinating to see if any traces of Quararibea funebris can be found inside a Maya (or Mixtec or Aztec) burial. Remains of at least some plants were found in burials at Copan, Honduras.

Rosita de cacao may also be smoked

The current ethnobotanical research projects we have are:

  • Flavoring for cacao
  • Flavoring for tobacco and other plants which are smoked besides tobacco
  • Flavoring for incense; which plants are used both for tobacco and/or cacao and/or for incense

There are thus three series of web pages: on flavoring for cacao are most advanced; next are the flavorings for tobacco. For flavoring for incense we have begun but still need several years field work (and studying what is in the local Maya markets). So we do not yet have many web pages and only a few PDFs on the topic of ingredients for incense.

Although we still are doing research on flavoring for tobacco, we already have located at least one web site on tropical plants which suggests that molinilla, Quararibea funebris, Rosita de cacao, can flavor tobacco. http://toptropicals.com/html/toptropicals/plant_wk/quararibea.html

It is worth noting how many of the flavorings for Aztec and Maya cacao were drugs of one form or another. I would need to check on all recent monographs on cacao to see to what degree this has been noticed, and if noticed at all, whether a clear conclusion was made.

Other interesting plants in the same or related family

Related species (within the Maya area) include Pachira aquatica (common in Guatemala) and Bernoullia flammea, which is a flavoring for tobacco. Parts of Pachira aquatica are edible.

Parts of the Ceiba aesculifolia (Pochote) are also used as a spice for cacao.

Note that these three species are all trees of the (former) Bombacaceae family.

Habitat of rosita de cacao in the Mesoamerican area

Quararibea funebris is present in the Selva Lacandona, noted at Yaxchilan, including amidst the Maya ruins (Meave et al. 2008:58, 60).

Velez shows many stands of Quararibea species in the area where Izabal and Alta Verapaz border each other. However this area is either destroyed by the Exmibal mining operations, or bulldozed for sugar cane plantations, or bulldozed and burned to the ground to plant African oil palm, or chopped down to create cattle pastures.

When does Quararibea funebris flower? When is fruit ripe?

We are still unable to find adequate information on phenology of most of the plants of Guatemala. There is much more information on the plants of Costa Rica but since the soil and climate of Guatemala may be different than that of Costa Rica, the phenology in lower Central America is better than nothing but is not a realistic guide for Guatemala.

In 2013, the tree at Tikal had its single flower in late March. But the eco-system of Tikal, El Peten is different than that of the Costa Sur or Izabal.

In 2015 the Quararibea funebris trees on the Costa Sur bloomed in early June. By the last week of June the flowers were either fallen off or too dry; the plant scout said it was not worth driving down by that date.

So the flowers bloom only perhaps over a period of two weeks (if on a mature tree with hundreds of buds). If a young tree with only a few buds, they seemingly really do only look photogenic for one or two weeks at most.

Rosita de cacao in Mayan art & Archaeology (artifacts)

Charles Zidar interprets that some flowers pictured on Classic Maya vases are the Quararibea fieldii.

Rosita de cacao in Oaxaca

Tejate, a beverage that includes Rosita de cacao, is made and consumed in Oaxaca including the town of San Andrés Huayápam.


Molinillo is missing totally from Plantas utiles de Peten Guatemala (MacVean 2003). And as mentioned in the discussions, Quararibea funebris is conspicuously missing from most discussions of the plants of Alta Verapaz in general and Q’eqchi plants in particular.

    • 2004
    • Plants of the Petén Itza’ Maya. Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan Memoirs, Number 38. 248 pages.
    • 1974
    • Flora of Guatemala. Fieldiana: Botany, Vol. 24, Part X, Numbers 1 and 2. Field Museum of Natural History.
    • JANOVEC, J. P.
    • 2000
    • A systematic study of Compsoneura (A. DC.) Warb., a neotropical member of the Nutmeg Family (Myristicaceae). Estudio sistemático de Compsoneura (A. DC.) Warb., Un miembro neotropical de la familia de la nuez moscada (Myristicaceae). Ph.D. dissertation, Texas A&M University, Graduate School, College Station, TX. 450 pages.
    • 2003
    • Plantas utiles de Peten, Guatemala. Universidad del Valle de Guatemala. 168 pages.
    • 2008
    • Plant diversity assessment in the Yaxchilan Natural Monument, Chiapas, Mexico. Boletin de la Sociedad Botanica de Mexico, 83:53-76.
    • 2011
    • Árboles del Mundo Maya. Museo de Historia Natural de Londres, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Universidad del Valle and Propetén de Guatemala and Belize Forest Department

      Funded by AVINA (Asociación para la Vida y la Naturaleza) and associated with Pronatura. Describes 220 species of tree. Has one photo of each, but quite small, and when a wide-angle view you can’t see any detail. Font is also quite small.I estimate the publication date is 2011 because the front info page is a tad academic and not very practical; does not clearly list the date of publication.

  • 1968
  • Arboles tropicales de Mexico. Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestales, Mexico, D.F. 413 pages.
  • 1983
  • The phytochemistry of Quararibea funebris. Botanical
Museum Leaflets 29 (2): 151-58.
  • 1977
  • An unusual spice from Oaxaca: The flowers of Quararibea funebris.Botanical Museum Leaflets 25 (7): 183-202.
  • 1943
  • Timbers of the New World. Arno Press.
  • 1939
  • American Woods of the Family Sapotaceae. Tropical Woods 59, 46-49.
  • 1957
  • The Genus Quararibea in Mexico and the use of its flowers as a spice for Chocolate. Botanical Museum leaflets, Harvard University. V. 17 1955-1957, Pp. 247-264.
  • 1930
  • Flora of Yucatan. Fieldiana, Botany Series, Vol. 3, No. 3. Field Museum of Natural History p. 354.
  • 1990
  • Funebradiol, a New Pyrrole Lactone Alkaloid from Quararibea funebris Flowers. J. Nat. Prod., 1990, 53 (6), pp 1611–1614


We thank biologist Licda. Mirtha Cano, Parque Nacional Tikal, for encouraging FLAAR to devote our camera equipment, our experienced team, and our time and energy to creating a photographic archive of the flora and fauna of Tikal. As soon as we can find more molinillo trees at Tikal and find more flowers, we will return to do additional photography.

We appreciate the hospitality of the park administration and show here the logos of the institutions which support the Parque Nacional Tikal. We also appreciate the patience and knowledge of the two local assistants of the team of Mirtha Cano.

We thank Nolasco, a knowledgeable local person, for telephoning us when Quararibea funebris was blooming near his house.

We thank Rejina de Riojas for providing access to both her tree rescue properties in Guatemala.

Most recently updated July 2015 after one of our other photographers was able to photograph molinillo flowers on the Costa Sur of Guatemala.

First posted April 29, 2013.


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