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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Peer-reviewed Journal articles suggest Guatemala has no savannas!

Posted August 26, 2019

Several months ago, using aerial photographs, I noticed a probable savanna east of Nakum (Peten, Guatemala). With the assistance of our experienced team of local Peteneros and our capable team of FLAAR Mesoamerica, we hiked for kilometers, for hours, to reach this area. We thank the local guides, Teco and his associates, for getting us here.

To finally reach this savanna you climb a steep hill where there is a monumental geological fault, literally, the karst here is “split in two.” After you carefully walk around and then through and across the fault, you climb downhill (or slide downhill on the dry leaves since it is very steep).


Click to view the actual savanna without the trees blocking the view

Then you reach a point where, all of a sudden, you see kilometer after kilometer of grassland in front of you, framed by the trees (because you are still on the hill). I was so amazed that the first two field trips here I cried with sheer surprise and happiness. Literally, tears flowed down my face.

I know of savannas from the 1970’s, Lake Peten to La Libertad and to Sayaxche. And around Poptun: lots of pine savanna everywhere. But having lived for 12 months at Tikal in 1965, I am more accustomed to hillside and hilltop forests. And from hiking, on foot, to El Mirador (leading tour groups), I know what a bajo is. But to see kilometers of savanna at the base of the forested hill in Parque National Yaxha Nakum Naranjo, wow, what a great reality check for biodiversity.

Then tonight (August 25), while doing research on plant habits (habits, not habitats) and on ecosystems, I came across a typical statement that “savannas are found in southern Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua…etc.” Ouch, Guatemala is not listed. Yet even if these botanists and ecologists have never set foot in PNYNN, there are the better known savannas all across the middle of Peten.

Anyway, this is one of dozens of examples that there is a lot of flora and fauna in Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo which is missing from monographs and articles and reports. The park co-administrators: IDAEH and CONAP are facilitating our collaborative research on the plants and fauna: their assistance has allowed us to document that the savannas here in PNYNN are very different than in Belize and totally different than around Poptun, and south and west of Lake Peten Itza (and different than the pine savanna several kilometers northeast of the northeast corner of the Parque Nacional Tikal). In addition to trees, grasses (reeds and sedges). we are noting mosses, lichen, shrubs. A lot more to come.

Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo is well worth visiting to experience the remarkable flora and fauna.



Savanna-like area (Lake Yaxha, Peten, Guatemala) covered with Cassytha filiformis (love vines)

Updated August 28, 2019
First posted July 23, 2019

About every two months (from August 2018 through July 2019) we visit the south shore of Lake Yaxha, the southern area of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo. On each visit we noted lots of the common thin orange parasitic vine wandering around on the ground, searching for plants to visit and suck their life-system. This July, from the boat (kindly provided every month by the park administrators IDAEH and CONAP), I noticed a yellow glow about 10 meters inland from the shore. So I asked the lanchero to go towards the shore so I could step off and inspect the orange color. Turned out it was a series of savanna-like areas with the ground literally covered with this parasitic vine.


Click to enlarge image
This pano was taken with an iPhone Xs. We will be preparing a full report with our dozen panoramas of this area by Dr Nicholas (Hellmuth) plus nice close-up macro photographs by Maria Alejandra Gutierrez.

Since there is a nearly identical vine on our family farm in Missouri (Cuscuta, dodder), and as I have seen the same vine in many areas of Alta Verapaz and above Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, I assumed the identical vine at Yaxha was also a species of the Genus Cuscuta.

There are several species of Cuscuta, in different ecosystems around the Americas. We have Cuscuta growing around bushes that stand out of the water in beaver-dam flooded areas on our family farm in the Missouri Ozarks. From a distance it looks identical to the Cuscuta from Guatemala (except here in Missouri it has adapted to snow and ice during the winter).

There is also lots of Cuscuta around Solola, en route to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Over the years we have found and photographed many locations with Cuscuta vines in different ecosystems of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. I love the color and thin spaghetti diameter of the vine. The flowers are miniature and pretty. How this vine survives is great reading (just Google it).

But after I learned there is a literally identical parasitic vine named Cassytha filiformis, I spent several days doing research and was surprised to learn that only Cassytha filiformis is found in Belize and Campeche and Peten: not much Cuscuta species in any of these areas. So now I estimate that the thousands of vines at Yaxha are also Cassytha filiformis. As soon as we are back at Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo we will do macro photography and check the odor of the vine: Cuscuta evidently has no odor, but Cassytha filiformis has an easily detectable smell. We are working on a bibliography to show you where to find all this information.



Bogs, Swamps, Lagoons, Lakes, Rivers, Ox-bows Diverse humid ecosystems await you at Yaxha

Posted June 14, 2019

If you are a professor of ecology, botany, zoology, entomology, you will find species at Yaxha that will showcase your capability as a scholar. This is because there are more different ecosystems in this one single park than in most other parks. During the field trips (one each month) we have found and photographed a diversity of ecosystems around Yaxha, Nakum, and Naranjo that will help totally rewrite all the 1960’s-1990’s research done elsewhere in Peten.


Click to enlarge image
Photo by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth with an iPhone Xs.
Panorama of Savanna of 3 Fern Species, discovered by the team in April 2019; revisited in June 2019. This area has unforeseen diversity: it is a bog, a swamp, a savanna of ferns, and a sibal (sawgrass ecosystem). Plus has the specific Acoelorraphe wrightii palmetto palm and Crescentia cujete trees of grass savanna definition of Peten and Belize (but no pine trees and no bushes with sandpaper leaves (Curatella americana, Chaparro). So the grass savannas of the Nakum area of the park are distinctly (and unexpectedly) different than the savannas of nearby Belize.


Click to enlarge image
Photo by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth with an iPhone Xs.
Panorama of the west shore area of Rio Ixtinto: will be inundated in a really wet year (photographed in June 2019, height of one of the driest years in recent history).


Click to enlarge image
Photo by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth with an iPhone Xs.
Panorama of the unexpectedly large Savanna East of Nakum, discovered several months ago at Aguada Maya, Poza Maya. Each of these ecosystems has a different micro ecosystem every 50 meters.

To our knowledge this project (FLAAR Mesoamerica cooperating with IDAEH and CONAP) is among the first to use the concept of panorama photos to document the ecosystem diversity. Our goal is to show the world what is available for you to experience when you visit Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo. Since the sawgrass and ferns are so high we bring ladders (endless kilometers hike) so we can use a several-meter high Gitzo tripod so our panorama system (iPhone Xs, Google Pixel 3XL, Nikon D810 or Canon EOS 1DX Mark II or our other cameras) can record the plant diversity in each of the micro ecosystems.

Since there is so much to see in this park it helps to stay several days. The Hotel Ecolodge El Sombrero is located next to the entrance. You do not need 4WD to reach the hotel nor the parking lot to entire the Yaxha ruins. Boats are readily available to cruise Lake Yaxha, the cenotes at the west end, and the Rio Ixtinto near the west side of Isla Topoxte.

To reach Nakum, try only in the dry season and only with high axel 4WD (or hiking by foot, with a guide). To reach Naranjo, an impressive area of acropolises, palaces, temples and pyramids, a high axel 4WD is essential (except during the driest month of the year, perhaps April).



Edible roots from Guatemala

Posted Jun. 7, 2019


Photograph with a Nikon D5, Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4e FL ED VR lens, f/11, ISO 200

The root is the lower part of a plant, they are almost always underground, although there are also aerial and aquatic roots. Roots are in charge of holding the plant to the ground, absorb water and minerals, synthesize hormones and store nutrients.

Roots are usually edible, some types of them are:

  • Napiform: root thickened by the storage of nutrients and shaped like a turnip.
  • Tuberous: root thickened by the storage of nutrients, without definite shape.

It is important to mention that napiform and tuberous roots are not the same as the bulbs and tubers, which are modified stems, not roots.




Senaida Ba (FLAAR Mesoamerica) finds Habenaria repens in Yaxha park (Peten, Guatemala).

Posted June 7, 2019

Habenaria repens bog aquatic orchid Savanna 3 Ferns

Click to enlarge Habenaria repens
Left to Right: Jorge Manuel Marcos Martínez (PNYNN, helpful park ranger), Senaida Ba (FLAAR Mesoamerica), Nicholas Hellmuth (FLAAR Mesoamerica), Ricardo Herrera Marroquín (PNYNN, helpful park ranger), and Ericka Garcia (capable and enthusiastic university student at Universidad del Valle de Guatemala).

Senaida is deservedly proud because Nicholas was so focused on the wide-open white flowers of Sagittaria latifolia, which was another plant 3 meters to the left, that he did not notice this orchid in his enthusiasm to reach the other plant. Senaida hiked in separately (while Nicholas was photographing the Sagittaria latifolia plant) and noticed this Habenaria repens orchid. It is known for occurring in wet areas of Peten.

The water here is not part of Lake Yaxha whatsoever; this is the exterior ring of pools of water around the Savanna of 3 Fern Species. On the aerial photographs of IGN, Instituto Geográfico Nacional, you can see non-connected pools of water in an oval pattern around this biodiverse series of mico-ecosystems. To our knowledge we are the first research team to document the plants and this ecosystem.

Enlarged photo info: NIKON D5, lens AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED;
settings: f/3, speed 1/1600, ISO 640.

Several months ago Dr Nicholas (Hellmuth) found an aquatic orchid (Bletia purpurea) in dozens of locations around the edge of Lake Yaxha. While doing research he noticed that Habenaria repens had also been found in bogs and watery areas in several parts of Mesoamerica (including in the Peten area of Guatemala).

So we looked around Lake Yaxha and in other wet areas of the park...but no Habenaria repens. But when the CONAP+IDAEH park administrators assisted us to reach a remote part of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo, Senaida Ba found Habenaria repens while Dr Nicholas was a few meters away discovering a different bog plant never before documented by any botanist for the Peten area of Guatemala (more on this in a later report of the FLAAR Mesoamerica flora and fauna research team).

This remarkable ecosystem was discovered by Dr Nicholas while analyzing aerial photographs by the Instituto Geografico Nacional (of Guatemala). Every area of the park that has "no forest" is an ecosystem we wish to explore.

And in each of these ecosystems which we have detected from aerial photographs we have found remarkable plants, in most cases plants not well documented by botanists for the adjoining Parque Nacional Tikal.

Although this aquatic orchid is well known for Mesoamerica, to our knowledge no botanist has found it previously in the Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo. Thus we are able to add another plant to the list of what is available to study in this park. We thank the co-administrators of the PNYNN for coordinating our field trip to this remote area of the park. It was a six hour hike back-and-forth, plus a boat ride to the far west end of Lake Yaxha (at which point you have to climb three very steep hills (then climb down them before climbing up the next one).

We also like to do library research (as you can see from our dozens of annotated bibliographies that we post on our FLAAR web sites). But to study plants I would rather hike six hours (after flying to Guatemala, and driving over 1,200 kilometers round trip from Guatemala City to reach the park) and experience the plant and flowers in-person than see a dead wilted, folded specimen in a herbarium.

The park has considerable potential for ecotourism, avitourism (bird watching tourism), and lots of potential for helping local Mayan people learn to protect these ecosystems so they can learn what handicrafts can be made from local plants that can be sold to tourists (obviously not grabbing the plants in the park, but finding the same plants outside the park) and then having training to learn which plants tourists will want to see and experience close up.

99% of orchid specialists with whom I have spoken told me they were not aware of water-related orchids: so the Yaxha park has immediate potential to become a travel destination for all the orchid societies and bromeliad societies in countries around the world.



Wild Vanilla Orchid Vines found near Yaxha, Peten, Guatemala

Posted June 4, 2019

Every day we are at Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo we find more wild vanilla orchid vines. These wild vanilla orchid vines are common in the bajo type of Peten ecosystem: seasonally very dry; seasonally very wet (sometimes a few centimeters of standing water if it is a very rainy year).

Today (June 4, 2019) we found wild vanilla orchid vines in the bajo vegetation surrounding the Savanna of 3 Fern Species. None were in the sibal-savanna ecosystems; all were outside, growing on the stunted trees in the bajo ecosystem.

This area is uphill from Laguna Lankaja and about 50 meters south of Laguna Perdida (three conjoined lagoons, each one perfectly round).



Another different species of Passiflora vine flower found in savanna east of Nakum, Peten, Guatemala

Posted May 9, 2019

In Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo, most passion flower vines grow in seasonal bogs or alongside rivers. But park ranger Teco found a Passiflora vine with lots of flowers in a savanna east of Nakum. This savanna has lots of micro ecosystems.


Click to enlarge image
NIKON D5, lens Nikon AF-Micro-NIKKOR 200mm f/4D IF-ED Macro; settings: f/13, speed 1/250, ISO 2000. Photo by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth

We appreciate the cooperation of the park administration (IDAEH and CONAP) which is what gives us incentive to find plants in this Yaxha park which are not yet documented for adjacent Parque Nacional Tikal.

On Topoxte Island in Lake Yaxha (many kilometers from the Nakum savanna) we found edible Passiflora fruit fallen to the ground from a vine so high in the trees that we had to use a Nikon prime 800mm super-telephoto lens to be able to see and photograph the fruit. These photos we show on www.maya-archaeology.org home page.

We are sending photos to imminent Passiflora-focused botanist Dr John M. MacDougal. We will update this post when we have the species identified.


Click to enlarge image
NIKON D5, lens Nikon AF-Micro-NIKKOR 200mm f/4D IF-ED Macro; settings: f/13, speed 1/250, ISO 2000. Photo by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth



Field research on Morning Glory Vines & Flowers of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo

Posted April 17, 2019

In addition to Ipomoea alba, Merremia tuberosa, and Merremia umbellata, we are photographing every single species of the morning glory family Convolvulaceae that we find in Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo, Peten, Guatemala. There are lots of morning glories visible when you take a boat trip around the lake and around the islands and then into Rio Ixtinto.

We have taken enough photographs that we will have three volumes on all these: Vol. I: Ipomoea alba; Vol. II: Merremia tuberosa, and Merremia umbellata, Vol. III: all other morning glory vine flowers. Aniseia martinicensis is one genus we discovered in late March 2019. There are several common purple and lavender morning glory flowers that we will identify and include in the Volume III.

Morning Glory Vines and Flowers of Yaxha Morning Glory Vines and Flowers of Yaxha Morning Glory Vines and Flowers of Yaxha

Click to enlarge image
NIKON D810, lens Nikon AF-Micro-NIKKOR 200mm f/4D IF-ED Macro, ISO 1250, f 14 1/80, Dr. Nicholas Hellmuth

Click to enlarge image
NIKON D810, lens Nikon AF-Micro-NIKKOR 200mm f/4D IF-ED Macro, ISO 5000, f 10, 1/250, Dr. Nicholas Hellmuth

Click to enlarge image
NIKON D5, lens Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4e FL ED VR, ISO 2500, f 4, Dr. Nicholas Hellmuth

The morning glory popular with Aztec priests and royalty has not been found at the Yaxha park. That is not a research goal but needs to be noted as whether present or absent. No hallucinogenic mushroom is known for Central Peten either: Dr Lowry visited Yaxha when we were there in the 1970’s. We study mushrooms solely for learning which are edible and which produce dye colorant for clothing, paper, and other products. We study morning glory plants to learn which can coagulate latex from Castilla elastica rubber tree and which morning glory plants have other useful aspects.





Bromeliad flowers, Aechmea tessmanii or Aechmea tillandsioides, Nakum area of Yaxha park

When we find a flowering plant we do research to identify our photographs so we can prepare a NEWs or web page or eventual FLAAR report. When we found a medium sized bromeliad in several areas of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo, we noticed there were two bromeliads on the Internet that looked similar: Aechmea tessmanii and Aechmea tillandsioides.

Aechmea tessmanii is not listed as occurring in Belize (Balick, Nee, and Atha 2000: 174). Not listed for Peten (Lundell 1937: index for Aechmea, page 223). Surprisingly there is not one single Aechmea species in Cook’s helpful 2016 monograph on Lacandon Ethnobotany.

The only synonym is Platyaechmea tessmannii, and that is also nowhere listed for Peten or Chiapas or Belize that we have yet found (both names will be somewhere, but the main botanical textbooks doe not include Aechmea tessmanii for Peten.

Yet we have found at least two Aechmea at Yaxha area of the park and one in the Nakum area that look very similar. But, for Aechmea tessmanii Wikipedia says: “This species is native to Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia.” So I kept looking and now estimate that these bromeliads in Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo are Aechmea tillandsioides.

Of the family Bromeliaceae we have found lots of Aechmea bracteata; park ranger at Yaxha, Topoxte, and Nakum, Teco , showed us two areas filled with Aechmea magdalenae between Yaxha and Nakum and the combined team (IDAEH + CONAP + FLAAR Mesoamerica found another pital of Aechmea magdalenae between El Tigre (Mayan ruins) and the northwestern border of the park. We have located two or three other large species of bromeliads; some of which can be either arboreal or terrestrial; some which are almost always found growing out of the ground. Plus there are dozens of smaller bromeliads up in the trees.


Click to enlarge image
Aechmea tillandsioides fallen to the ground at Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo, Peten, Guatemala. If you have really good eyes, or binoculars and a good local guide, you should be able to find and photograph Aechmea tillandsioides flowers in most areas of the park that have tall trees.

Canon EOS Rebel T6, lens Canon EF75-300mm f/4-5.6; settings: f10, speed 1/160, ISO 100. Photo by Maria Alejandra Gutierrez, FLAAR Mesoamerica team.

In recent months we have found and photographed a lot of bromeliads in flower high in trees along the shore of Arroyo Petexbatun, Municipio de Sayaxche, Peten. Plus lots of flowering bromeliads in the more moist Caribbean Sea area of Municipio of Livingston, Izabal, Guatemala.

If your Bromeliad Society or Orchid Society or Botanical Garden wishes to have future Tropical Rain Forest adventures, now you know where to visit

FLAAR (USA) organized field trips throughout Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador (and Peru, Bolivia) in the 1970’s through 1990’s. In subsequent decades we focused more on flora and fauna research field trips (to remote areas with our own team). So now we know good places to experience arboreal and terrestrial bromeliads and orchids. In fact we know where the rare aquatic orchids are in Guatemala. So if your Bromeliad Society, Orchid Society or Botanical Garden or university alumni group wishes to fly Dr Nicholas to any part of the world to give a presentation, he is available to speak in English, Spanish or German (or with simultaneous translation for any other language).

FrontDesk FLAAR.org will reach us (we assume you know what symbol to put in the empty space and how to close the space to both sides of the symbol).

We also know good local guides for birdwatching, orchid, bromeliad, and heliconia experiences. It is always important to have a local guide even when you have an international specialist with you.

Updated March 30, 2020 after we have found Aechmea tillandsioides in other areas.

Updated March 30, 2020
Posted April 10, 2019


Tree found at Yaxha missing from Tree lists of (nearby) Tikal

Posted April 8, 2019

The large savanna found by Hellmuth on aerial photographs has turned out to be a veritable unexpectedly biodiverse area. We have now visited this savanna two times and Elena Siekavizza has a list of about 80% of the trees that grow in the multiple micro ecosystems within this savanna. The savanna is so large we need to return for one more note-taking day (keeping in mind it is a 6-hour round trip hike from the Nakum camp). But the awesome natural beauty, the presence every hundred meters of another micro ecosystem, and the fact that NONE of this specific savanna has been documented by botanists or ecologists (that we know of) previously, fuels our hiking there plus multiple kilometers going from plant to plant in each different ecosystem within the overall savanna.

Yes, a savanna is a grassland, but it does have trees, a few full size (Crescentia cujete and Acoelorrhaphe wrightii). However most other trees are stunted, either because of the permanent water in the bog under the savanna surface and/or because local hunters tend to set fire to the grass every year.


Click to enlarge image
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, lens Canon EF 24-105mm f/4.0 L IS USM; settings: f/10, speed 1/30, ISO 400. Photo by Maria Alejandra Gutierrez, FLAAR team.

Ximenia americana is known as pepenance (pepe nance) This is because its red fruits (when they ripen and turn orange) remind you of (orange) nance fruits (stunted nance trees are a hallmark of savannas in Peten and adjacent Belize). But Ximenia americana is in the plant family Olaceae, so not a relative of nance from a botanical point of view.

Other local names in Peten include Saaxnic and tocote de monte (Lundell 1937: 120) plus abalche, jocote, and jocote montaña. Local names in Belize include sour plum, Wild plum, or wild lime (Balick, Nee, Atha 2000: 104), who list the fruit as edible. Lundell also says the fruits are edible (1937: 59).

Lundell lists Ximenia americana on pages 45, 59, 96, 118, 120, 135, 137 and 167 (so I am surprised that Schulze and Whitacre do not have it anywhere in their 1999 list of Trees of Tikal). Cook does not list it in her helpful coverage of ethnobotany of the Lacandon Maya of Chiapas.

But surely Ximenia americana will be found at Tikal, but in the meantime, if you are interested in plants of Mesoamerica, the Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo is a great place to visit.


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Parque Nacional Yaxha, Nakum and Naranjo

Botanical Terms

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

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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