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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Flowers in Maya religion, iconography, hieroglyphs and diet.

Be careful when identifying sacred flowers

Stylized flowers are found in Maya murals, on vases, plates and bowls, and as earrings.

Unfortunately several of the flowers identified by J. Eric S. Thompson and other Mayanists may be inaccurately identified. The identifications that are most accurate tend to be by Charles Zidar of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

At FLAAR we are working on identification of scores of Maya plants, trees and flowers based on detailed long-range study of the actual plants. For example, there is an oft-published vase in the Museo Popol Vuh where the tree is consistently “identified” by iconographers and epigraphers as a cacao tree.

No, sorry, it is not a cacao tree. I raise cacao trees, they bloom and fruit in our garden (yes, even at 1500 meters above sea level). I have been studying cacao, and pataxte, for over thirty years, and in detail the last five years. The last three years I have been working on all the other fruits which are superficially similar to the cacao pod (yes, there are many of them). I can show innumerable figurines where a cacao fruit has been identified by a scholar, and then I can show other fruits that are more closely appropriate as a model than a cacao fruit. Sorry, there are many many fruits that are the same size, shape, and form as a cacao pod.

Baby cacao in FLAAR Garden Guatemala Central America 2011

Cacao, Theobroma cacao flowers recently open in FLAAR Garden Guatemala Central America 2011

In other words: some trees identified as cacao simply are totally other plants.

I spend months out in the forests and swamps studying trees, flowers, vines and their flowers. Using high-resolution 21 megapixel cameras and sophisticated macro lenses we at FLAAR obtain literally hundreds of photographs of each species.

It will take us years to publish everything we have found, but this web site, www.maya-ethnography.org, is a start. If we had funding we could publish everything during a two year period.

List of some sacred flowers of Maya religion and mythology

Flower of zapote bobo, Pachira aquatica. This flower (and the tree) are clearly related to ceiba; the trunks even have a few spines sometimes. Another flower which is similar is on the Pseudobombax ellipticum, named amapola but is obviously not opium. The name in Belize is shaving brush tree (because of the shape of the flower).

Flower of ceiba tree, various species. Every botanical book uses different names, such as Ceiba aesculifolia, Pochote. Ironically the largest and most sacred of the ceiba trees, Ceiba pentandra, its flower is not spectacular, but other ceiba species have flowers that are gorgeous.

Waterlily, Nymphaea ampla

Plumeria species, flor de Mayo, bak nikte’. Read the article on Plumeria

Flor de mayo white Plumeria rubra Guatemala Central America

Flor de mayo white Plumeria rubra Guatemala Central America

flores del nardo, Polianthes tuberosa. (Schoenhals 1988:206). Also an additive to balche drink of Lacandon.
flowers that attract hummingbirds
flowers on Maya bowls, vases, plates (that have not yet been identified)
Aak’ alyoom “night flower from which Kisin was born” 
Chipilin flowers: white petaled, red petaled, yellow petaled, often stated to be Crotalaria longirostrata, Crotalaria guatemalensis

Squash flower(s), related to ballgame
Probably another ten species, plus or minus
Although the Pachira aquatica has been singled out as a natural model for flowers in Maya art (Zidar and other scholars) I would also like to point out the following flower species as worth comparing with Mayan art:

Amapola, Pseudobombax ellipticum (shares some features with Pachira aquatica)

Edible flowers of Guatemala and Mexico

Biznaga colorada, Cactus flowers,Ferocactus pilosus, (Arias 2010)

Chayote, Sechium edule (root, flowers, and leaves are edible). Read more

Guisquil or wiskil flowers and closed buds

Chayote, Sechium edule flower.

Dahlia, Tzoloj, Dahlia imperialis (Chizmar 2009:111-112)

Isote tree (also spelled izote), spineless yucca, Yucca elephantipes. We raise izote flowers in our garden. The neighbors come to ask if we can give them part of the harvest so they can eat the flowers. Izote flowers are commonly sold in the local markets also. Read the whole article

Izote flowers commonly sold in the local markets FLAAR garden Guatemala Central America

Izote flowers commonly sold in the local markets FLAAR garden Guatemala Central America

Loroco, Fernaldia pandurata. This flower is also commonly found in native markets.

loroco open flowers Fernaldia pandurata commonly found in native markets Guatemala Central America

loroco open flowers Fernaldia pandurata commonly found in native markets Guatemala Central America

Pacaya, palm, Chamaedorea pacaya. This is my favorite flower to eat.

Pacaya palm Chamaedorea photo studio flower Guatemala Central America

Pacaya palm Chamaedorea pacaya photo studio flower Guatemala Central America

Squash, some squash flowers may be edible.

Many parts of the waterlily, Nymphaea ampla, are edible. This is a flower I do not myself wish to experiment with, though many parts of the water lily were ingested by the Classic Maya. Due to unknown chemical properties we do not recommend eating the flowers or seed pod of the water lily.

This list will grow.

Waterlily Nymphaea ampla Rio Pucte Sayaxche Peten Guatemala June 2011

Waterlily Nymphaea ampla Rio Pucte Sayaxche Peten Guatemala June 2011

Decorative flowers: Additional Flowers to learn about

Annatto flower is quite showy, Bixa orellana

Acnistus arborescens (Chizmar 2009:297-298)

Bucut, Cassia grandis (OFI-CATIE: 439), impressive mass of white-pink flowers on a tree.

Ciricote flower, Cordia dodecandra, looks like it would make a beautiful earring.

Cuajilote, Candle tree, Parmentiera edulis, ribbed fruit looks vaguely like a thin cacao. Tree is related to morro or jicaro (calabash tree).

Cestrum racemosum (Chizmar 2009:302-303). All Cestrum species are of interest. Huele de noche grows outside in front of my office.

Chayote, Sechium edule.

Clavellina, Pseudobombax ellipticum More photos in this link www.flickr.com/photos/robregon/4612328661/
http://fiveprime.org/hivemind/Tags/pseudobombaxellipticum/Interesting a dozen gorgeous spectacular photographs.

Clavellina, Bombax palmeri Clavellina is another typical Spanish misnomer in that five (or more) flowers absolutely unrelated to each other have the identical name, Clavellina. One is a cactus!

Jicaro, Crescentia alata, and/or Crescentia cujete calabash tree, has a flower that should be compared with scenes in Mayan art.

Lacmellea standleyi

Mexican Butterfly weed, Blood Flower, Asclepias curassavica

Mexican primrose willow, Ludwigia octovalvis

Peacock Flower or chaparral in Spanish, Caesalpinia gaumeri

Pentalinon andrieuxii

Tobacco flowers are very beautiful, Nicotiana tabacum and Nicotiana rustica. But so far I have not yet been able to find indigenous tabacco nor indigenous cotton. However native Maya rubber is common (rubber from Brazil has taken over; Egyptian cotton has replaced native cotton; and commercial tobacco has replaced native Maya tobacco).

While on the subject of tobacco, the Maya wrapped their cigars in nance leaves. Also the Maya smoked many other leaves besides tobacco: guarumo is but one additional ingredient. And most smoke that the Maya inhaled came from incense.


Most recently updated August 17, 2011.
First posted late July 2011.


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

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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