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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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.



Ciricote, Siricote or Ziricote, Cordia dodecandra

April 3, 2019

3 dimentional lichen at Yaxha

Camera NIKON D810, lens Nikon AF-Micro-NIKKOR 200mm f/4D IF-ED Macro; settings: f/13, speed 1/250, ISO 1250.
Photo by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth

Ciricote, Cordia dodecandra, is a tree found in many areas of Peten and elsewhere in Guatemala (and Mexico, Belize, Honduras, etc.). I have been familiar with ciricote for many decades since its flowers are very photogenic. It blooms in March and April (and other months depending on the climate that particular year).

I call the tree ciricote; gringo botanists tend to spell it siricote; lumber companies spell it ziricote. The species I know best in Guatemala is Cordia dodecandra but many more species exist in Mesoamerica.

In Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo we have found ciricote along the Rio Ixtinto, along the road between Yaxha and Nakum, and next to the camp buildings at Nakum. The Naranjo area should also have plenty of ciricote trees also. The last week of March (2019) I noticed several ciricote trees while hiking through the park.

We will be creating a web page shortly, dedicated to documenting all the uses of different parts of the Cordia dodecandra tree. The Cordia dodecandra tree has the added benefit that if you plant it as a future lumber tree you have fresh fruit every year as the ciricote tree grows. We (FLAAR) know of many properties in Peten where a tree nursery could be started and properties which could be reforested. The nice aspect is this part of Mesoamerica is an original home for the Cordia dodecandra tree, so it is already happy with the climate and soils here.

Since we found several ciricote trees in full bloom during late March every day while in Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo, we would like to show the pretty flowers.


Mushrooms and lichen as dye colorants
for Maya weaving

Posted Mar. 18, 2019

At Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo the combined team of FLAAR Mesoamerica working with the park administrators through IDAEH and CONAP have found more than a dozen species of mushrooms native to this park. No previous botanical study of this park listed many (or sometimes any) mushrooms (or lichens or moss and not many ferns either).

While doing research on pre-Columbian colorants of the Aztecs and other cultures of Mexico, I was surprised to find that all three major books on dye colorants of Mexico clearly document that Aztecs (and assumedly their neighbors) used lichen to make colorants.

WOW, sure never knew this while doing research on useful plants of Mayan ecosystems for many decades (keeping in mind that a mushroom is “not a plant” and that a lichen is an algae plus fungus interacting in a mutualistic relationship). Plus not a peep about mushrooms and lichens as dye colorant source in my own decades of research on dye available to the Maya.

So now our full-color PowerPoint presentation gathers together all this information (together with high-resolution photos of the mushrooms and lichen at Yaxha) and also mention every vine, plant, tree, etc. that was available to the Mayan people for dye colorants from local Petén resources.

The lecture was 2 April 2019, 10 am (to 11 am), Museo Ixchel on campus of Universidad Francisco Marroquín, Guatemala City, Central America. We are now updating this presentation to create an English edition.

The co-author of this presentation, Elena Siekavizza, did research and found 48 mushrooms (that grow in Petén area) that can give dye colorants (usually need a mordant also). So as soon as the rainy season returns we would like to find as many of these mushrooms as possible at Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo. But during the last 8 months of field work at the park we have found at least an initial dozen of dye producing mushrooms. Ironically the most common mushroom in the park is a dye source.

Lichens are amazing biological organisms, I would be very pleasantly surprised to find any book on Mayan archaeology, Mayan way of life, or any general coverage of the Classic Maya that focused on the potential for using local lichens (yet books on dye colorants by Mexican scholars list and show photos of lichens in all of the three major books on dye colorants). Not one single book on dye colorants of the Maya (that I have on my desk) mention, list, or even hint at mushrooms or lichens. Yet the FLAAR team found lichens in the bajos and rain forests and Elena Siekavizza, did research and found 20 lichen species reported for Peten. Would be great for a PhD candidate to do field work in the Yaxha park to achieve a dissertation on Lichen as a source of Dye Colorants for the Maya.

Plus we (IDAEH + CONAP team together with FLAAR Mesoamerica team) have found 9 trees at Yaxha which would have produced dye colorants for the Classic Maya. Seven trees which produce dye colorant at Yaxha are totally missing from books on dye colorants of the Maya of Guatemala (because 99% of research on dye colorants is in the Highlands, especially Lake Atitlan, Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango, and Antigua Guatemala (plus Highland Chiapas). This is why the FLAAR teams are focusing on discovering dye colorants available at Tikal, Uaxactun, Yaxha, Nakum, Naranjo and thus of course at Holmul, El Zotz, Seibal and all the sites to the west in Chiapas and to the east in Belize. We are working to “rewrite what the Classic Maya had available in their diverse ecosystems for thousands of years.” Plus of course they had trade networks.


Click to enlarge image
If your museum, university, botanical garden, foundation, organization, social club, or other entity would like the fresh full-color results of the work of the team of FLAAR and FLAAR Mesoamerica we have lots of lectures with high-definition photographs. For example, the ancient Mayan people had no plastic! Senaida Ba and Nicholas Hellmuth have worked together for several years to make a list, then to find and photograph, all the materials the Mayan had (since there was no plastic).

Contact: FrontDesk symbol FLAAR.org (we assume you can figure this out). We can lecture in English, Spanish, and German (and elsewhere the English presentation can be sent in advance to be translated for simultaneous translation during the presentation).

Ps: Nicholas is now doing research as to whether the moss discovered by park ranger Moises Daniel Perez Diaz can be used to produce a dye colorant and/or mordant. The moss (same species) came in green, orange, and reddish color (the color changed every few meters in a remarkable bog ecosystem that Nicholas found via an aerial photograph and then hiked with the team many hours to study what plants were present).



Giant “tree fern” found near Yaxha, Peten, Guatemala

Posted Feb. 25, 2019


Photograph by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth, with a Nikon D810, Nikon AF-Micro-NIKKOR 200mm f/4D IF-ED Macro lens, f/13, ISO 1,250

When you look at aerial photos of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo (or Google maps in satellite view) you notice a unique single rectangular area with zero tree forest. Since every aguada, bajo, or savanna ecosystem in the same park (and in adjacent Tikal national park and in all parks to the east in Belize) are oval or irregular shape, to find a pure rectangle documents it’s “Made by the Maya” (several thousand years ago).

So I was curious about what plants we would find here, so last week we spent several hours out in the Mayan rain forest hiking around the southeast side and southeast corner around to the east side.

All forest trees stop at the edge of this Poza Maya or Aguada Maya, as it is named. But inside the rectangle the soil is moist (since the ancient Maya put a layer of material to keep the water from escaping). Growing in this bog-like eco-system is a thick entanglement of tall plants whose fronds remained me of palm trees but when Elena Siekavizza reached these plants she recognized they were giant ferns. Once she got back to our main research office she identified them as Acrostichum danaeifolium. We also found edible begonias in the bog.

Most of these plants have not been registered as being present in Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo. The giant “tree fern” is totally different than ones everywhere in the cloud forest of Alta Verapaz. So if you like rare and photogenic plants, plan a trip to the Yaxha national park. Restaurante El Portal de Yaxha (aldea of La Maquina, at crossroads of main paved highway to turnoff towards Yaxha park) offers 4WD service to reach Poza Maya (if booked far in advance). Ecolodge El Sombrero provides comfortable hotel at entrance to Yaxha park.


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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.
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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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