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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Lecture & Photo Exhibits on Waterbirds of the Mayan Jungle Lakes & Swamps

Posted Feb. 17, 2019

Dr Nicholas Hellmuth has been accomplishing research on waterbirds in 4th-9th century Mayan murals, sculptured stelae, and painted or incised ceramics for 40 years. We now have exhibit quality high-resolution photographs on the waterbirds of Lake Yaxha, between the Mayan ruins of Topoxte Island and Yaxha. So for any bird-watching organization, we have a great visual experience for you.

The team of photographers of FLAAR (USA) and FLAAR Mesoamerica (Guatemala) have Nikon D5 and Canon EOS 1DX Mark II digital cameras. So we can use high ISO to be able to use 1/2000th or even 1/3000th of a second to “stop each bird in flight.”

We have 300mm lens for the Canon and 200mm, 400mm, 600mm, and 800mm prime Nikon (Nikkor) lenses for bird photography, plus of course Gitzo tripods, Wimberley Gimbals, etc. to facilitate capturing nice photographs of these birds of the Mayan world.

So for any university, natural history museum, zoological park, bird watching organization, or any social club, we have photos to provide a Mayan experience to your conference, class, seminar, lecture, or other event.

Contact: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it is one way to contact us, or by Skype.


Would you or your botanical garden like a presentation on AQUATIC orchids of the Mayan lakes of Guatemala?

Posted Feb. 15, 2019

If you would like a lecture on aquatic orchids (that Dr Hellmuth discovered in Lake Yaxha, Peten, Guatemala) we now have high-resolution photographs of Dr Nicholas Hellmuth out in the remote lakes documenting the fact that these orchids have their roots at water level (and frequently down into the water of the lake).

These orchids have not “fallen from tree limbs into the lake.”

These orchids are not growing from seeds fallen from the shore. These orchids grow on reeds several meters away from the shore (over the water).

If you would like a lecture on dye colorants (for Mayan weaving), or on what foods the Classic Maya could harvest from the surrounding rain forests (with no slash-and-burn milpa agriculture), and especially if you would like to know what SuperFoods the Maya had available for thousands of years (more than just maize, beans, and squash), he can lecture in Spanish, German, and English, or can be simultaneously translated into your local language.

Contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it to arrange to fly Dr Nicholas Hellmuth to your part of the world.

And also consider visiting Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo in Guatemala, to see these aquatic orchids in full bloom (plus of course all the other orchids: terrestrial and arboreal).

Dr Nicholas (as is his nickname around the world) has been in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize since age 16. So he is familiar with Mayan archaeology, art, iconography, plus the plants of the rain forests surrounding the ancient Mayan cities.


3-dimensional Lichen? Between Yaxha and Nakum, Peten, Guatemala

Posted Jan. 30, 2019

More than 70% of the trees in Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo have white lichen on their trunks (most jiote and most pimienta gorda trees escape lichen). There is rose-colored, orange, pink, reddish, light green and a few other colors of thin lichen on tree trunks (but white is over 70%, in some areas over 90%). We are looking for 3-dimensional lichen. Maria Alejandra Gutierrez, FLAAR Mesoamerica, found and photographed this lichen on the road between Yaxha and Nakum in mid-January 2019.

3 dimentional lichen at Yaxha 3 dimentional lichen at Yaxha

Camera Canon EOS-1D Xmark II, lens Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM; settings: f/2.8, speed 1/8000, ISO 1000.
Photo by Maria Alejandra Gutierrez

Photo by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth
with an IPhone Xs

We will try to find this branch the next time we are in the 17 km stretch between Yaxha and Nakum. Perhaps the crusty whitish lichen is curling up because the branch is no longer alive. I say this because over 90% of the lichen on millions of trees in the park is normally flat when on a growing tree trunk. Lichen is a different shape along the shores of Lake Yaxha on dead branches over the water (where the lake has risen and frees formerly on the old dry shore are now dead because the lake level has risen). However the lake shore lichen shape is because the branches are water soaked plus are one to two meters above the water level (the lower trunks are in one to two meters of risen lake level).

Since we do not have a PhD in lichen or mushrooms, I am not able to identify the thin red spaghetti under the white lichen (in the photograph at the left). But it is rare to find spaghetti-like lichen or mushrooms in the park. Red Cuscuta parasitic vines are common, but this is not Cuscuta. Perhaps the thin orange spaghetti growth is either lichen or moss or some other growth. We will work at finding more of this and photographing it with better focus next time.

The Italian pasta-like material in the photograph at the left has a Cuscuta vine going under and around it. Cuscuta is “everywhere” along the shores of Lake Yaxha and in dry areas between Yaxha and Nakum. But I photographed this Italian pasta mass because it looks to me more like 3-dimensional lichen than the thin orange spaghetti in the photo at the left.

I am interested in finding and photographing all 3-dimensional lichens since these are more likely to be a source of colorants. The Aztec and their neighbors used both mushrooms and lichen for colorants. The Maya had mushrooms available and we have found the colorant mushroom all over Yaxha and Nakum and in between. But we have not yet found lichen, nor have we yet found good photo albums and checklists of lichens of Peten. For Tikal there is a thesis on mushrooms of Tikal. Would help to have a thesis or dissertation on lichens of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo.



Panorama photography equipment options for national parks: reviews & recommendations; and also tips of what to avoid.

Posted December 31, 2018

The beauty and attractiveness of this large national park is much more than archaeological remains of pyramids, temples, palaces, ballcourts, acropolises, plazas, causeways (Sacbe), etc.

Yaxha Acropolis

Click to enlarge image.
Lots of plants out there. Lots of Mayan pyramids buried under these trees and vines. But just imagine how many awesome tropical flowers you can find during the season these trees flower (March, April, May and many other months).

Botanist Cyrus Lundell estimated there were 2,000 plants in the central Peten rain forests. Other botanists suggest there are over 200 species of trees. The other 1800 plants are vines, orchids, bromeliads, and plants of the shores, marshes, and bogs. So there is huge potential for botanical research at Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo.

In the 1970’s I spent five years doing the map of all the monumental architecture plus the smaller house mounds. But today (2018-2019) I come to Yaxha to study the neo-tropical flora and fauna of this park.

In the long run it will be essential to do aerial photography, preferably with a helicopter, since here you can use high-resolution cameras. Drones will pester local birds and 90% of the cameras on drones are simple point-and-shoot and overly wide-angle: cameras for bikers and hikers on their weekend and vacation adventures. We prefer serious photography, so we use a Nikon D5 and a Canon EOS 1DX Mark II camera.

But until we find a helpful individual or company with a helicopter who can donate photo opportunities, we show the remarkable rain forest with panoramas taken from the top of pyramids and acropolises at Yaxha and Nakum. We hope to get back to Naranjo and do panoramic photograph there with archaeologists Vilma Fialko, Raul Noriega and their capable team.

We have L-shaped panorama tripod heads (Bogen 3288 (Manfrotto 340)). We have the second-generation GigaPan, the most awesome panorama camera yet invented. Plus already in the 1990’s we had the BetterLight tri-linear scanner large-format digital panoramic camera system.

At Photokina 2016 we spent quality time in the NOVOFLEX booth; they have a diverse range of L-shaped panorama equipment with quality Made in Germany. But until their equipment is available to evaluate, we will be writing about the L-shaped Bogen 3288 (Manfrotto 340) on a Manfrotto 303PLUS panoramic photography head system and the GigaPan panorama photography systems.

Nakum Forest Maya Peten Landscape

Click to enlarge image.
We close this peek into the rain forests of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo with another panorama by the FLAAR Mesoamerica photography team. All these photos are to show the world the natural beauty that you can experience here.

The hotel Ecolodge El Sombrero has many of the same trees over the hotel restaurant and directly in front of your hotel room. This hotel is at the entrance to the park, to the left directly at the entrance gates.




Terrestrial orchids, 2 species, Senahu, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala

Posted Dec. 27, 2018

Since Alta Verapaz has significantly higher humidity than Peten you get even more orchids, bromeliads, and other epiphytes. But Alta Verapaz also has terrestrial orchids. One, red-orange, is very common. It grows as a “roadside weed” along most rural unpaved roads around Senahu and many other areas of Alta Verapaz.

We found lots of this terrestrial orchid blooming on Christmas Day (yes, I work almost every day of the year, including my birthday, New Year’s, etc; there are so many plants and pollinators and eco-systems to learn about, I don’t want to waste a day).

Terrestrial-orchids-2-species-Senahu-Alta_Verapaz-Guatemala-FLAAR-Mesoamerica Terrestrial-orchids-2-species-Senahu-Alta_Verapaz-Guatemala-FLAAR-Mesoamerica

Click here to enlarge image
Camera NIKON D810, Nikon AF-Micro-NIKKOR 200mm f/4D IF-ED Macro, f/13 speed 1/250, ISO 4000, photo by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth

Click here to enlarge image
Camera NIKON D810, Nikon AF-Micro-NIKKOR 200mm f/4D IF-ED Macro, f/13 speed 1/250, ISO 6400, photo by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth

Senaida Ba, our Q’eqchi’ Mayan plant identifier and photo assistant told me she had also seen terrestrial orchids similar in color and size to the aquatic Bletia purpurea that we found in a dozen areas around Lake Yaxha, Peten. We found this pink-purple orchid blooming on the same roadside hills as the red-orange ones.

Difference is that the pink-purple ones had no leaves: literally, the flower stalk came straight out of the ground. Senaida found one place where all the flowers had wilted but there was a set of leaves.

We will send these photos to orchid experts to make sure we have a proper name before we add the name to an update of this news item.




Gorgeous flowers of happy parasitic vine at Yaxha, Peten

Posted Dec. 19, 2018

Yaxha lake north shore below camp Psittacanthus species parasitic vine orange flower

Camera Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, lens 300mm, f/0, f/2.8 speed 1/400, ISO 500, photo by Alejandra Gutierrez

This week we are back in Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo (Peten, Guatemala) to continue research on flora and fauna. Since we are not aware of any studies of parasitic vines at Tikal or Yaxha or other national parks in recent years, we are working on making a list of all the treetop vines.

Psittacanthus is one of a dozen treetop vines, but this one is a parasite. Orchids and bromeliads are not parasites. Since the vine is so high in trees we have to use 600mm, 800mm, and 1000mm telephoto lenses, and even then we can’t capture an individual bunch of flowers. Much to our surprise, the last week of November we found a Psittacanthus vine flowering down at eye-level, so we could do close-ups. Here are samples.

Yaxha lake north shore below camp Psittacanthus species parasitic vine orange flower

Camera NIKON D810, lens 105.0 mm, f/3.0, f/9 speed 1/100, ISO 1000, photo by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth

We estimate this is either Psittacanthus macrantherus, Psittacanthus auriculatus or Psittacanthus calyculatus. Each species is slightly different colors depending on whether in Oaxaca, or Belize or Peten, and how long the flower has been open (so you see no yellow on the Psittacanthus here). We will update this page as soon as a botanist with experience with Family Loranthaceae of Mesoamerica can communicate with us.

You can experience these flowers in many locations of the park, especially near Grupo Maler and Blom Sacbe. Pleasant hotel at park entrance is nice place to stay: Ecolodge El Sombrero.




Pachira aquatica, zapoton, pumpo blooming for Happy Holidays 2018

Posted Dec. 17, 2018

Pachira aquatica zapoton pumpo Guatemala edible fruit

Click here to enlarge image
Camera NIKON D810, lens 200mm, f/4, f/11.0 speed 1/250, ISO 500, photo by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth

About 7 to 9 years ago, I planted seeds of zapoton from the Costa Sur (sea level) in our FLAAR Mayan Ethnobotanical Research Garden, at 1500 meters above sea level. This week I was so happy to see it bloom for the first time. What a great Christmas present for my heart and soul to see this flower (roughly comparable to structure of flowers it its relatives Ceiba aesculifolia and Pseudobombax ellipticum).

The city’s main botanical garden, just a few kilometers away, has the same tree happily blooming every year, so I knew that it would survive the colder climate, higher altitude, and lack of growing along a stream or lake.

Pachira aquatica grows along Rio Dulce, Lake Izabal, Rio San Pedro (Peten) and the aguadas behind Tikal’s visitors center. We are now searching for Pachira aquatica along the Rio Ixtinto, Rio Holmul, and Lake Yaxha (all part of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo).




Just identified an additional large bromeliad: Nakum, Peten, Guatemala

Posted Dec 13, 2018

Aechmea bromeliifolia at Yaxha

Click here to enlarge image
Camera NIKON D810, lens 200mm, f/4, f/10.0 speed 1/50, ISO 100, photo by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth

We have found and identified most of the really large bromeliads at Yaxha and Topoxte Island. Then I noticed that our photos of a bromeliad from Aug 14th had not been identified.

Turns out it's Aechmea bromeliifolia. Now that we know it's at Nakum and blooming in August (2018) we need to return in August 2019 and find it at Yaxha, Topoxte Island, Naranjo, etc.

We continue to search the Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo for large bromeliad species and all the other undocumented plants of this part of Central America.




Are there wild orchid species in Guatemala that are aquatic?

Updated Dec. 5, 2018,
first edition posted Nov 2, 2018

When you visit Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo you will see “wild orchids everywhere.” Having worked at Yaxha mapping the ruins with archaeologist Miguel Orrego and team, over a 5-year project of FLAAR research and educational institute (1970-1974), I know that most of the orchids are up in the trees.

From my research on orchids worldwide I also am aware that there are terrestrial orchids (we have them wild on our Hellmuth family farm in the Missouri Ozarks). And a few orchids in other parts of the world spend much of their life “underground.” In other words, there are “orchids in most eco-systems except the frozen Antarctica and in the sand dunes of the Middle East.”

But are their “aquatic orchids?” Do some orchids “grow on water?”

I raise this question since while courtesy of the IDAEH-CONAP boat of the park, on 31 October this year (2018), I noticed dark-pink lavender flowers among the reeds out in the water a few meters from the shore. When I saw a second patch I asked the boat captain to stop so I could see what plant was floating along with the mass of roots of the reeds that are in many areas along the north shore.

One of the park rangers (Teco, Moises Daniel Pérez Díaz, who accompanied us) said that these were indeed orchids and that he had seen them before. The leaves are comparable size and shape to hundreds of other orchid species (all of which grow high up on trees).

But back in camp, everyone told us the logical answer: “maybe these have just fallen on top of the reeds because the branches of large trees stretch out several meters over the lake shore area?” Plus dozens of trees (whose branches often have orchids) along the shore fall into the lake every year because the soil is only a few centimeters deep (below is limestone, since this is an area of karst geology). So every rainstorm lots of trees fall over. Their branches are covered with bromeliads, orchids, arboreal cacti, and parasitic vines (with beautiful flowers).

But the orchids that I found are NOT fallen from tree trunks or tree limbs. These orchids are at water level. In November we even found lots of freshly germinated young orchid plants, just a few millimeters high (since there are mature flowering orchids of this water-related species every several meters along the north shore of Lake Yaxha).

Now that we found this “aquatic orchid” we learn from our research that the jargon is “bog orchid” or “swamp orchid,” although in this case at Yaxha it is not a swamp and not a bog: it is near (but not over) the shore area of the lake. However you could consider the first two or three meters a kind of swamp-like ecosystem because of all the roots and fallen reeds that create their own ecosystem on which these orchids are very happy.

Since no one believed that “water orchids” existed, we returned to Yaxha in late November and learned a lot more. These are indeed water related. Obviously they don’t float on the surface independently like water lily pads: instead the orchids grow from the base of reeds whose root mass floats on the surface. In some cases the lake is 5 meters deep underneath the reed 20 cm deep reed root mass (and decayed fallen reeds); in other cases I could wade out and only have my body 2 to 4 feet deep in the water (to study the position of the roots in and above the water level you need to stand in front of them at eye level).

We (FLAAR Mesoamerica) go to Yaxha at least one week every month all year: so we hope to see you there. We will be looking for additional species of “aquatic orchids” since there are indeed seasonal swamps in other areas of the park.

We now have a list of all water-related orchids found in other lakes in Peten and adjacent Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Quintana Roo and are making a list of water-associated orchids of Belize. We estimate that there may be several of these species in Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo (all the more reason to visit Lake Yaxha and Rio Ixtinto next to Topoxte Island).

If you are like to study orchids, if you like to experience something in nature you have never in your life seen or heard of before, then come to visit Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo. Hotel Ecolodge El Sombrero is where we stay and Gabriella, the owner, knows plants, animals, and archaeology since she has been in the Yaxha area for many decades.

There is one additional genus of orchids which also float over the surface on aquatic material. This other genus of water-related orchids is list for most lakes, rivers, and aquatic areas around the El Peten area of Guatemala: in order words, it is only a matter of time before we can find a second, and maybe a third, water-related orchid.

So if you like to experience orchids out in the wild, far from a greenhouse, if you or your company or association or a foundation where you know board members could provide funding for our field trips, then we can return to Lake Yaxha find all the other water-related and also the terrestrial orchids on the shore adjacent to the lake and associated Rio Ixtinto. Plus you and your family or friends can join us on a field trip to Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo.




Merremia tuberosa vine flowers open in FLAAR garden

Posted Nov 21, 2018

Merremia tuberosa flower Merremia tuberosa flower

9:37 am
Nikon D810, 200mm,
f/13.0, 1/200, ISO 800

9:47 pm
Nikon D810, 200mm, f/13.0,
1/200, ISO 6400

The two best documented flowers that contain chemicals that vulcanize latex from native Maya rubber tree Castilla elastica bloom in the FLAAR Mayan Ethnobotanical Research Garden. Ethnobotanist Dr Suzanne Cook has documented that the juice, from both these vines, is used by the Lacandon Maya of Chiapas, Mexico to create viable rubber.

The Olmec 3500 years ago and the Maya 1500 years ago used these vines to make latex sap into rubber that could bounce (for the rubber ball game balls, for example). MIT researcher Michael J. Tarkanian has done actual experiments (in Chiapas, Mexico) with Ipomoea alba with Castilla elastica for his B.S. and M.S. theses.

We (FLAAR, USA and FLAAR Mesoamerica, Guatemala) estimate that Merremia tuberosa may grow also in the Yaxha park. We also feel that other "morning glory vines" may also have chemicals to vulcanize rubber. So every month we visit Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo to update the lists of plants to find all utilitarian plants that would have helped the Classic Maya for thousands of years at Yaxha, Nakum, Naranjo, Topoxte Island and all the other sites around the park areas.


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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

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

4x4 Pickup Truck Reviews, Evaluations and Suggestions

Tikal Related Reports


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