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

Florifundia
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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Pseudobombax ellipticum, amapola, shaving brush tree, may be model for important flower in Maya art

Flowers of Pseudobombax ellipticum look like compact versions of flowers of Pachira aquatica

Since Pseudobombax ellipticum and Pachira aquatica are close relatives in the same plant family, it is no surprise that their flowers look similar. Plus, in a few areas of the Departamento of Izabal, they grow near each other. This we found along Canyon de Rio Dulce, Municipio de Livingston, during our field trips of 2020.

Pachira-aquatica-zapoton-Rio-Petexbatun
Pachira-aquatica-zapoton-Rio-Petexbatun

Flower of Pseudobombax ellipticum

Yet in Parque Nacional Yaxha, Nakum and Naranjo, during 2018-2019, we did not find a single Pachira aquatica within the park but found several Pseudobombax ellipticum trees, plus Ceiba pentandra trees (which are rare in Izabal).

Pseudobombax ellipticum flowers when there are no leaves on the tree

Most of the Pseudobombax ellipticum are showing their beautiful flowers when there are no leaves on the tree. Each tree produces only all white or all pink flowers. We found two all white trees and one all pink tree while driving up and down various highways in Guatemala (Guatemala to Chiquimulilla; then to Mazatenango then back to Escuintla and up the steep highway to Alotenango and Antigua. That Pseudobombax ellipticum have white flowers.

Pseudobombax_ellipticum_pink_Ciudad_Vieja-Esq_Westcott_Jan16_2014_1st_1578
Pseudobombax_ellipticum_pink_Ciudad_Vieja-Esq_Westcott_Jan16_2014_1st_1475
Pseudobombax_ellipticum_pink_Ciudad_Vieja-Esq_Westcott_Jan16_2014_1st_1505
Pseudobombax_ellipticum_pink_Ciudad_Vieja_Jan17_2014_Westcott_1657

Pink flower of Pseudobombax ellipticum

We hope that botanists can ascertain whether the white-flowered Pseudobombax ellipticum are wild and native and the pink-flowered Pseudobombax ellipticum are a garden variety? Or are the pink ones more in the Highlands or more in dry areas; and the white ones more in moist areas such as Peten and Izabal.

Where are these trees?

We found one white species past Barberena (less than an hour from Guatemala City). Found another white one on the highway paralleling tributaries of the Rio los Esclavos. This highway goes to Chiquimulilla. The white Pseudobombax ellipticum was two meters from a Ceiba (had no flowers and no leaves; but probably not a Ceiba pentandra. This is because Ceiba pentandra were not blooming anywhere in Highland Guatemala or Rio Motagua area nor Izabal nor Verapaz in late December of early January.

Rio los Esclavos area has pine trees and in January already begins to look very dry. Yet alongside the rivers you see a diversity of trees that remind you of Peten or Verapaz. But I would classify the area is dry, albeit not as dry as the Motagua desert corridor area.

The pink tree was roughly same altitude as Barberena. Both were wetter than Rio los Esclavos areas. But not one of these trees was near a river (in the sense that their roots could in no way reach river water). Thus I was surprised to find them along Rio Dulce and tributaries in Municipio de Livingston, Departamento de Izabal, Guatemala.

Caution is suggested when identifying flowers in Maya art

Many years ago I showed an obvious Bombacaceae flower that was on a Maya ceramic bowl. Flower-focused ethnobotanist Charles Zidar went further and showed a series of comparable Bombacaceae flowers on other Classic Maya vases.

If you took all flowers in Maya headdresses and throne scenes that have been labeled by archaeologists or botanists as water lily, I would not be surprised if several turn out to be other flowers. Same with other flower “identifications.” So far Zidar is more accurate for the fleur de lis, but flowers in headdresses are not as easy to really identify.

Although I feel that the flowers of Pseudobombax ellipticum and Pachira aquatica, are present in vase paintings (which a large isolated fleur de lis), I would be hesitant to accept each and every other identification so far (when in a bowl, or headdress, or otherwise not fully detailed at large size).

Botanists transfer plants from one family to another

Earlier botanical publications tended to put the tree in the Bombacaceae family (after all, the flower is pretty similar to that of Pachira aquatica). Then botanists created a sub-family Bombacoideae within the Malvaceae family. But nowadays most web sites on the Internet today simply list Pseudobombax ellipticum as a member of the Malvaceae family.

I would be hesitant to eat, or use as medicine, any plant named amapola

The seeds of Pseudobombax ellipticum are listed as being edible, and flowers or leaves for use in making a tea (Argueta et al. 1994:120 as mentioned by Ratsch). The seeds of Pseudobombax ellipticum, can be consumed if toasted (Navarrete, p. 664). Yet one local name for Pseudobombax ellipticum is amapola.  Ratsch lists 21 plants which carry the name amapola (1998 auf Deutsch, translated to English 2005). The point I wish to make, is that most likely the only reason some of these 21 plants have the name amapola is because there are chemicals in the plant that produce effects other than nutritional! But for the trees of Bombacaceae, I am not convinced whatsoever that they have hallucinogenic effects whatsoever. It would be helpful for linguists to study the word mapola and learn whether this is the original true correct name (and that amapola is more a joke; or maybe amapola has other meanings besides cocaine?). The Aztecs and their neighbors are infamous for their ingestion of plant drugs. There is a new book (published in Mexico, 2020 or 2021) that outlines substantial (excessive) drug use by the Classic Maya. But I do not believe that any tree of the Bombacaceae family produces hallucinogenic drugs.

Pseudobombax ellipticum has no spines on the trunk

This tree comes under consideration because of its remarkable flower. The tree trunk itself is not adorned with the remarkable spines of Ceiba pentrantra nor Ceiba aesculifolia. I do not accept the infrequent and relatively small occasional thorns of Pachira aquatica as showy enough to have been represented as thorns by the Classic Maya (though the flowers clearly were). However we have found a tree in Izabal that has conical thorns up and down its trunk comparable to a Ceiba pentandra.

Utilitarian aspects for Pseudobombax ellipticum

The Classic Maya did not have plastic, did not have metal processing (until Post Classic). So we have been accomplishing research for over a decade to make lists of all utilitarian plants of the Mayan areas.

The cotton-like kapok is used for pillows and mattresses. We will discuss other uses in our forthcoming full-scale report on Pseudobombax ellipticum.

Linguistics

x- cun che nel) pseudobombax ellipticum (h. b. et k.) dugand - bomba.: chac-kuyche, kuhche, kuyche, zac-kuyche, xcunche, xkuxche (amapola) -- mad., med.

(Bolles Yucatec Maya dictionary)

Unusual characteristics

If kept in a pot, and pruned, the plant base will grow into a shape with a surface similar to a turtle carapace (www.rareflora.com/bombaxellip.htm)

We also cover other trees of Bombacaceae:

Bernoullia flammea

Ceiba pentandra

Chiranthodendron pentadactylon

Ochroma pyramidale

Pachira aquatica

Quararibea funebris

Introductory Bibliography on Pseudobombax ellipticum

  • ARGUETA Villamar, Arturo et al. (editors)
  • 1994
  • Atlas de las Plantas de la Medicina Tradicional Mexicana. 3 volumes. Instituto Nacional Indigenista, Mexico D.F.
  • BALICK, Michael J., NEE, Michael H. and Daniel E. ATHA
  • 2000
  • Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Belize: With Common Names and Uses. Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden Vol. 85. 246 pages.
  • BOLLES, David
  • n.d.
  • Yucatec Maya dictionary. Available on-line.
  • NAVARRETE-Tindall, Nadia and Mario A. ORELLENA Nuñéz
  • 2002
  • Pseudobombax ellipticum (Junth) Dugand. In Tropical Tree Seed Manual, Part II, Species Descriptions, pages 664-665. US Forest Service. Available on-line RNGR.
  • RÄTSCH, Christian
  • 2005
  • The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants. Inner Traditions, Vermont. 942 pages.

    Very helpful book, based on decades of in-person fieldwork and experience. But, as with any and every opus (including my own) there are occasional potential errors, such as identifying a twisted vine as a drug vine just because it is twisted around each other. I have decades of experience hiking the trails through Peten and Izabal; there are lots of twisted vines that have no relationship whatsoever to drug vines of South America. You should not identify a vine unless you have flower, leaf, or a local plant guide (who is not into hallucinogenics) identify the vine accurately (not just to make you happy by naming the plant what they know you want them to think it is).
  • STANDLEY, Paul C. and Samuel J. RECORD
  • 1936
  • The Forests and Flora of British Honduras. Field Museum of Natural History. Publication 350, Botanical Series Volume XII. 432 pages plus photographs.
  • STANDLEY, Paul C.
  • 1923
  • Trees and Shrubs of Mexico. Contributions from the United States National Herbarium, Volume 23, Part 3. Smithsonian Institution.

    In this one monograph the species are not listed in alphabetical order, so it’s a mental adventure finding the species you are looking for.

    All monographs by Standley and co-authors can be easily found and downloaded. I would recommend finding the .pdf versions as they are easier to store, easier to copy, and easier to share with students and colleagues.
  • STANDLEY, Paul C. and Julian A. STEYERMARK
  • 1949
  • Flora of Guatemala. Fieldiana: Botany, Volume 24, Part VI, Chicago Natural History Museum.
  • WITSBERGER, D, CURRENT, D. and E. ARCHER
  • 1982
  • Árboles del parque Deininger. Ministerio de Educación, El Salvador.
  • ZIDAR, Charles and Wayne ELISENS
  • 2009
  • Sacred Giants: Depiction of Bombacoideae on Maya Ceramics in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. Economic Botany, 63(2), 2009, pp. 119–129.

 

Video

The YouTube video that is available has misunderstandings totally of ceiba and ceibo. Focus issues should have been erased; The YouTube video shot in Florida is much better filmed and nicer to watch in all respects (plus has nice music).

 

First post, January 2021.

 

Botanical Terms

Ecosystems, Wetlands Aquatic Plants

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

Trees with conical Spines

Flowers native to Guatemala visible now around the world

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