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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Plants of Mesoamerica: What we have worked on and what we have found

Posted September 18, 2023


Cassia grandis. Tikal, Petén. 2013.

Mesoamerica is one of the most diverse regions in the world both biologically and culturally. This region is occupied by the influence of the Aztec, Mayan, Teotihuacan, Toltec, and Olmec cultures. Here we have more than 19,000 species of flora described, of which Guatemala has around 10,300 of those species. Many of them have significant use in the region, not only for ancient cultures but also for current populations. We have many species with edible, medicinal, commercial, ecological, and scientific importance. Our goal over the years has been to document this diversity and share it with the public so that they can better understand the beauties that this region has to offer.


Selenicereus testudo. Petexbatun, Sayaxché, Petén. Nicholas Hellmuth, 2019.

As a team, we are interested in flora, fauna, and educational research in the Mesoamerican region. We are dedicated to documenting and photographing the flora that has a significant impact and value on the region. Our efforts focused on researching plants that have medicinal, edible, and other significant uses. The current projects that we have been working on in recent years have the purpose of documenting through high-resolution photography the biodiversity of different areas of Guatemala. These have been used to generate photographic reports and educational material on our platforms.


Río Dulce, Livingston, Izabal. Haniel López, 2021.

Yaxhá-Nakúm-Naranjo National Park (PNYNN) is the largest protected area in Guatemala, inside the Mayan Biosphere Reserve located in the north of the country, in the department of Petén. This project started in 2018 and ended in 2019. We have documented and made photo essays with the aim of publicizing the natural resources found in the protected area. We documented a wide diversity of flora in the park, among the most interesting has been the flowering of the wild vanilla orchid (Vainilla insignis Ames) which is believed to have had a significant use for ancient cultures in food and continues to be used today and even synthesized to imitate its flavor. We also found other interesting plants such as a species of orchid with aquatic habits (Bletia purpurea (Lam.) DC.), flowering tree cacti (Selenicereus testudo (Karw. ex. Zucc.) Buxb.), and a species of yellow paintbrush flower (Combretum fruticosum (Loefl.) Stuntz).

You can read more about these photographic reports of the PNYNN in the following link: https://flaar-mesoamerica.org/product-category/yaxha-project/flora/.


Vainilla insignis. Reserva de la Biosfera Maya (RBM), Petén. Edwin Solares, 2022.

We also have been working on the biodiversity documentation in the Main Protected Areas of the Mayan Biosphere Reserve (RBM) in Petén in collaboration with the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP by its acronym in Spanish). This project started in 2021 and will continue until 2025. We have also documented lots of native species such as a species of water flower (Nymphaea ampla (Salisb.) DC.), an edible species of cotton tree (Cochlospermum vitifolium (Willd.) Spreng.), and the differences between the Pseudobombax ellipticum (Kunth.) Dugand and the Pachira aquatica Aubl. flowers. An interesting one is the report of the bromeliad Aechmea bracteata (Sw.) Griseb which has great cultural value in indigenous communities such as its healing properties, it is part of religious ceremonies, and its fibers are used in the creation of tools. This species is also an important host of a wide variety of fauna and has an important function within the ecosystem of the treetops.

Look out for the other flora photographic reports of the RBM project in the following link:https://flaar-mesoamerica.org/product-category/rbm/ethnobotany-rbm/.


Nymphaea ampla. Laguna Petexbatun, Sayaxché, Petén. Nicholas Hellmuth, 2019.

In addition to the department of Peten, Izabal offers a range of recreational activities, is home to numerous nature parks and diverse natural landscapes. It has white sandy beaches, tall jungle-covered mountains, mangrove swamps, seagrass ecosystems, and the Mesoamerican Reef System of the Caribbean Sea. In addition, it has an incredible flora and fauna diversity and three different cultures coexisting (Mayan Q’eqchi, Garifuna, and Ladinos). This makes the department a great destination not only for tourists but also for our team to investigate. In cooperation with the municipal authorities, we have been producing educational material specifically for the Livingston municipality. We have registered species such as the water snowflake (Nymphoides indica (L.) Kuntze), an interesting species of waterlily (Nymphaea ampla (Salisb.) DC.), and multiple species of Heliconia genus. It is worth mentioning that this project has also focused on documenting edible plants of wetlands.

Consult the other flora photographic essays of the Livingston project at the following links: https://flaar-mesoamerica.org/product-category/livingston-project/edible-plants-of-wetlands/ and https://flaar-mesoamerica.org/product-category/livingston-project/plants/


Crinum americanum. Lagunita El Salvador, Livingston, Izabal. Nicholas Helmuth, 2020.

Currently, we have a total of 148 photo essays of the flora, fauna, and ecosystems from these three projects in which we have worked. 41 of them are dedicated to plants with ethnobotanical importance. If you are interested in learning more about the diversity of plants that you can find in Guatemala and that we have recorded in our projects, we invite you to visit our websites to learn more about them through the following link: https://flaar-mesoamerica.org/shop/

Written by Flor Morales Arroyo.




Several of the wild Hibiscus plants native to Guatemala are edible

Posted June 26, 2023 by Nicholas Hellmuth


One of our long-range goals is to find all wetlands plants of the Maya world that are edible. Week after week our team hikes to remote areas or travels in boats far up rivers never traversed by any botanist or ecologist.

So far we have found three Hibiscus plants or which one is edible for sure and we estimate the other two are also.

Our first discussion was on Hibiscus furcellatus, a Hibiscus that is common in several seasonally inundated savannas of Parque Nacional Laguna del Tigre (PNLT), Reserva de la Biosfera Maya (RBM), Peten, Guatemala.



Wright’s Yellowshow, huevos de vibora, Cochlospermum wrightii

Posted June 16, 2023 by Nicholas Hellmuth

Cochlospermum-wrightii-yellow-ground-herb-Zacapa-a-Cabanas-km143 Cochlospermum-wrightii-yellow-ground-herb-Zacapa-a-Cabanas-km143

Cochlospermum wrightii in the Zacapa area of Guatemala, in the sun between Crescentia alata trees. Photo by Nicholas Hellmuth


Cochlospermum wrightii (A.Gray) Byng & Christenh is the accepted name, achiote family. The Cochlospermum wrightii that we saw are ground herbs (not yet even a foot high) but their relative, Cochlospermum vitifolium can grow easily to 3 meters height as a shrub and often over a dozen meters as a tree.

We have seen and photographed Cochlospermum vitifolium in dry areas along highway CA9 from Guatemala City towards El Rancho but this was the first time we stopped to photograph Cochlospermum wrightii. When in flower Cochlospermum vitifolium is easy to notice and we have photographed this in several areas of Guatemala in the recent decade.



How large can a Plumeria rubra “shrub” grow?

Posted June 08, 2023 by Nicholas Hellmuth

Plumeria rubra are listed by botanists often as “tree or shrub.” Half the wild Plumeria rubra that I see across biodiverse ecosystems in different parts of Guatemala are large shrubs or small trees. But on June 6th, 2023, I happened to see the largest flor de mayo tree that I have yet found outside of a cemetery (often in burial areas the trees are more protected so grow taller with thicker trunks).


Uphill from Ipala, Chiquimula department of Guatemala. Over 90% of the Plumeria rubra out in the wild across Guatemala grow on steep hills or even stone cliffs (because these areas are not chopped down for slash-and-burn milpa agriculture). When you Click to Enlarge you may notice lots of epiphytic cactus (arboreal cactus that grow up tree trunks and out on the tree limbs).

Photo by Nicholas Hellmuth, June 6, 2023, iPhone 14 Pro Max. FLAAR Photo Archive has over 30 TB (yes TERAbytes) of digital photos of flora and fauna of Guatemala, Central America.




Water lilies surround Crocodiles in Late Classic Maya Art

Posted May 31, 2023

I estimate there are more water lily flowers in the 5th through 9th centuries than all other flowers combined. Second most popular flower in Maya art would be 4-petalled flowers of many different species of often water-related plants; #3 might be the Fleur de Lis, sometimes a Pseudobombax ellipticum or Pachira aquatica or composite). But water lily flowers, water lily seed pods, and water lily pads are very very common.

This lecture is July 27, 2023, in the Universidad Francisco Marroquin, organized by the Museo Popol Vuh, by MPV curator Camilo Luin. Lots of other lectures by epigraphers and other iconographers for several days. More info and links once July is upon us.

FLAAR can also offer lectures on the iconography of 4-petalled flowers in Classic Maya art.


The water lily of the Maya world, Nymphaea ampla, is the flower most frequently pictured in Classic Maya art. We will be showing several water lily Underwaterworld scenes in our July lecture on iconography and herpetology of crocodiles of the Maya Lowlands (Guatemala and surrounding countries).

This plate is a drawing by FLAAR illustrator published by Hellmuth in the mid-1970’s. The drawing has been redone by many other illustrators and posted other in locations. The dancing idealized young Maya man at the left wears a crocodile headdress (he seems to point at a waterbird who just caught a fish).

Although the lecture is focused on crocodiles, we will also mention God N’s association with crocodiles (in this scene on a Late Classic polychrome plate the personage inside the shell is not the elderly version; Old God N is by far more common). God N lives inside a conch shell, snail shell, turtle shell, spider web and other surroundings (like a hermit crab).




Mangrove remnant along Rio San Pedro (perhaps the most inland growing mangroves in the world)

Posted April 14, 2023

In March of 2023 our expedition team found and documented mangrove trees along Rio San Pedro, and this has been an exciting finding for our team! This mangrove remnant is remarkably unique, as well as its evolutionary history.


Mangroves have bright green leaves and characteristic aerial roots. Photo by: Vivian Hurtado. Rio San Pedro, March, 2023.

We first got to learn about these mangrove remnants through a series of media publications related to a research project in Mexico (this is Aburto-Oropeza et al. 2021’s study which will be cited later on this note). The researchers of this project located and sequenced various mangrove populations scattered inland throughout the Yucatan peninsula, including some important remnants in the basin of Rio San Pedro. Moreover, some of the highlights of this study include the documentation of a mangrove forest that is located 170 km inland from the Atlantic ocean.

Given that the researchers also mentioned the existence of isolated mangroves in the Guatemalan portion of Rio San Pedro, we decided to start investigating this topic. In that sense, we were able to find that the presence of mangroves in this area had already been discussed in at least two publications, one by Bestelmeyer and Alonso (2000) and the other by Castellanos (2006). We also looked at satellite images of this area, and we found that most of the river's basin is already deforested. So the only chances of finding mangroves would be by asking local people and navigating the river.


Mangroves have bright green leaves and characteristic aerial roots. Photo by: Vivian Hurtado. Rio San Pedro, March, 2023.

Later on, by the request of Mirtha Cano (biologist and administrator of one of the protected biotopes located next to Rio San Pedro) we planned an expedition to Rio San Pedro and Rio Escondido for another documentation project. However, to make the most of this expedition, we started asking local people if we could find the mangroves of Rio San Pedro. And indeed, we found that it was possible to get to some mangrove trees by navigating up river from El Naranjo village, so we did the proper planning to look for the mangroves in the same expedition.

Later on the actual trip, the expedition team did find the mangrove trees, and photographed them. Since then, the team has learned a lot about these mangroves' history and ecology. According to Aburto-Oropeza et al. (2021) these mangrove remnants first got here 120,000 years ago, because of a higher level of the sea. Nowadays, they still survive here because there is a high concentration of calcium in Rio San Pedro. If it was not for the leakage of calcium to the river (from the karstic soils that surround it), these mangroves wouldn't still be growing here. In fact, mangroves are coastal species that grow only on brackish water, with mangroves of Rio San Pedro being an amusing exception.


Mangrove propagule (still attached) collected at Rio San Pedro. Photo by: Vivian Hurtado. Rio San Pedro, March, 2023.

We are currently finishing a PDF report with the photographs of this expedition and helpful data that may assist you, if you are a student or researcher, to learn more about these remarkable mangroves. We hope that our work and the documentation we are doing with these mangroves can encourage you, and the local authorities to study and protect these mangroves. As mentioned before, most of the river basin is deforested and only a few vegetation patches persist, so the risk of losing these mangroves is alarmingly high.

We are planning a second expedition to this area later on this month and we encourage you to look in the next few weeks for the PDF on these mangroves and other ecosystems of the same area.

Bibliography on mangroves from Rio San Pedro

  • 2021
  • Relict inland mangrove ecosystem reveals Last Interglacial sea levels. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2021. Vol. 118, No. 41. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2024518118

Note: This is Aburto-Oropeza et al. ambitious study. They even found another mangrove species, Conocarpus erectus, in the inland mangrove associations from Tabasco, as well as other plant species from coastal mangrove associations.




Haematoxylum brasiletto flowering in bosque seco area of Guatemala

Posted January 22, 2023

At km 93, from El Rancho northward (heading for Coban), there is Haematoxylum brasiletto in full flowering mode this week.

This tree grows surrounded by cactus plants.

In Peten the palo de campeche grows in seasonally inundated swamps. But palo de tinto flowers in a different month.

We use the route through Alta Verapaz to drive from the FLAAR Mesoamerica office to accomplish field work in the PNYNN and PANAT areas of the RBM, Peten.

Lots of friendly bees sucking nectar out of the pretty yellow flowers.




Over 190,000 unique hosts read this FLAAR website on plants of Guatemala

Posted Jan 18, 2023

Alejandra Valenzuela, web statistics, FLAAR Mesoamerica, has provided the statistics. The average-per-month January through October is about 14,000. November and December the number almost doubled (to 27,967 in December). Total for the year is about 190,000.

We continue to receive appreciation from readers for the high-quality photographs of the FLAAR team and the FLAAR Reports that we issue.




Happy Holidays from Nicholas and the FLAAR team

Posted Dec 21, 2022

Eating chocolate from Theobroma cacao of Guatemala is very healthy. Over a thousand years ago one kind of chile was used so often as a flavoring that still today it is called chile-chocolate. So we wrote our holiday greeting with chile-chocolate on top of cacao seeds (sometimes called cacao beans).




Plants (alcoholic and hallucinogenic?) in Classic Maya Enema Rituals

Posted Nov 17, 2022

Lots of plants are shown sticking out the top of enema jugs. This PowerPoint will show lots of these; it is still a mystery what kinds of plants or plant parts. Plus, what are the Maya sniffing (in the bouquet)?

On Monday evening, Nov 21, 2022, a PowerPoint presentation will be delivered by Nicholas Hellmuth on his research on enemas that started in 1977. This research won the Ig Nobel Prize 2022 for art history for Dr Hellmuth and Dr Peter De Smet. The iconographic aspect has been updated for the November 2022 presentation.

Classic Maya Enema Ritual Iconography

The Mysterious World of Maya Enemas

  • Enema Jugs with plants sticking out the top?
  • Enema Syringes
  • Enema Bibs
  • Enema Rituals
  • Jaguars in Enema Rituals
  • Females in Enema Rituals
  • “bouquets” of flowers or plant parts? Being “sniffed” prior to enema injection?
  • “lipstick” containers, and other cups of unknown materials.

8 pm EST, 7 PM CT, via ZOOM, via The Aztlander (newsletter) (link is on attached PDF) https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89340702821

For zoologists: in addition to the common jaguar, deer, monkeys and other animals (or people in animal costumes) are occasionally present.

For iconographers: this ritual is shown in this PowerPoint much more often than published so far. Women are present in many of the scenes, however they themselves do not receive enemas; the females prepare the men to receive the injection.

For epigraphers: updated study is needed of all the hieroglyphs and symbols associated with the enema jug and participants. The lecture shows dozens of enema jugs. Many of these jugs have hieroglyphs on the jug and other symbols nearby.

For botanists: LOTS of plants were ingredients in the enemas. Peter De Smet has studied this aspect in his PhD and subsequently. I still estimate that lots more plants were added (including possibly cacao). His documentation will be cited in the bibliography. LOTS MORE TO STUDY on the ethnobotanical area and ethnopharmaceutical aspects. Not only what was in the jug, but what was in the other containers used in the ceremonies, and the “bouquets”.

The lecture will be in English but questions can be asked and answered also in Spanish.


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Parque Nacional Yaxha, Nakum and Naranjo

Smartphone Camera Reviews

Fungi and Lichens

Botanical Terms

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

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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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