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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Tobacco flowers are handsome garden plants

Posted April 2013

We at FLAAR institute are studying tobacco of the Maya and Aztec. As part of our project we are raising tobacco plants (not to smoke ourselves but to appreciate the natural beauty of their flowers).

Tobacco and the various other leaves used by the Maya of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Mexico, and El Salvador are a traditional indigenous cultural feature of importance in their medicine and religion.

tobacco red

Tobacco red night black background Westcott photo by Sofia Monzon.

Plus most of the ingredients of Maya and Aztec snuff and cigars have gorgeous flowers. Although I do not smoke myself already at age 19 I had discovered a Maya vase showing a person smoking a cigar (a 9th century vase in the Tomb of the Jade Jaguar which I discovered while a student at Harvard doing archaeological work for the University of Pennsylvania Museum at Tikal, El Peten, Guatemala).

Plus while doing research in the archives of Sevilla, Spain and Guatemala CIty, on the Spanish documents describing the Cholti Lacandon Maya cigars I learned more about this venerable tradition.

n other words, it is important to understand the natural beauty associated with tobacco and its several thousand years association with the advanced cultures of prehispanic Mesoamerica.


Izabal area is great for botanical research

Posted Jan. 2, 2013

A lot of botanical research tends to be done in the "Maya area" of Peten. Yet over the last year we have found that Izabal, and adjacent Alta Verapaz, offer considerable diversity of eco-systems to allow finding lots of the utilitarian plants which we seek.

Achiote Flower, photographed by Nicholas Hellmuth

Bixa orellana, the seed of this plant is used in our day to flavor foods, the Mayans used to make chocolate as a flavoring too, photographed by Nicholas Hellmuth.

Our goal is to locate, and photograph (when flowering or fruiting) as many of the plants in our list of utilitarian plants of the Mayan people.

We will be spending the coming week in Izabal, starting with the Frutas del Mundo facilities about 20 minutes before Rio Dulce. Dwight Carter has developed a great place to do botanical research here.


Mayan ethnobotanical photography of dye plants

Posted December 26, 2012

Christmas week is a great time to study plants in the area around Lake Atitlan. Our focus is edible plants and plants which produce dye for cotton.

We are photographing cotton: they are a tree here. Not a mere bush. Found beautiful examples of sacatinta plant (produces blue dye, like indigo). But the flower is a gorgeous orange.

Chipilin Flower, photographed by Nicholas Hellmuth

Nicotiana is the plant of tobaco, but in the Association of Women in botanical colors we learned that they used as colorants for their threads, photograph by Nicholas Hellmuth.

Found Canec flowering and tree tomato at altitudes much higher than Lake Atitlan. Tree tomato looks like a granadilla but is a tomato. It is the size of a normal fruit tree.

It helps to document that the Maya eat many more things than maize, beans, squash, and much more than root crops too. Plus, the diet in every eco-system was different, since some plants grow only at high altitudes.


Intensive photography of edible leaves in the diet of Mayan people

Posted Nov. 5, 2012

Chipilin Flower, photographed by Nicholas Hellmuth

Crotalaria longirostrata, Chipilin Flower, photographed by Nicholas Hellmuth. Copyright FLAAR 2012

In addition to studying indigenous tropical fruits, nuts, vegetables, and grains of Mesoamerica, we are also doing research on edible leaves (lots more than just spinach-like options).

Last week we were near Mazatenango to donate a set of photographic enlargements of cacao fruit to the local cacao growers association of San Antonio Suchitepequez. When in this area we always select a hotel which has as large a garden as possible, in the hopes of finding Mesoamerican plants in bloom. There is one hotel which has a small milpa in the back, plus two cashew nut trees.

Every month a completely different plant is in full bloom: six months ago it was the cashew trees. Last week it was the chipilin plant, Crotalaria longirostrata. Although it is the leaves which are eaten, I spent my time focusing on the pretty yellow flowers. Later this week we will add an entire web page and photo essay on chipilin flowers.


Exhibit of photographs of 
Mayan ethnobotanical beauty

Posted September 2012

FLAAR Exhibit of Sacred Trees and Flowers

High-resolution digital photographs of sacred trees and sacred flowers are now on exhibit at the Missouri Botanical Garden, St Louis, Missouri. These photographs, by Nicholas Hellmuth and Sofia Monzon, show the ceiba tree and flowers of most of the relatives of this sacred tree.

The exhibit continues through to November 18, 2012.



Lots of new publications on Maya ethnobotanical topics coming for 2012

Here are front covers of a whole series of photo-essays on Pachira aquatica. The flower of this or related species is pictured in Classic Maya art of Peten. Research project on all trees of Maya Mesoamerica with conical spines

Flowers of Palo Jiote, Bursera simaruba (Chacah, Indio desnudo)
Cochlospermum vitifolium, tecomasuche flower at Copan, 2012
Ceiba Giant Conical Spines at Copan, 2012
Sea Pods and Kapok Ceiba aesculifolia (cotton-like silk floss), ceibillo of Guatemala Ceiba aesculif



Research project on all trees of Maya Mesoamerica with conical spines

I have been photographing the spines on the trunks of Ceiba pentandra trees for several decades. I raised Ceiba when I was creating the Yaxha Parque Nacional in Peten. And today I raise Ceiba in the ethnobotanical garden surrounding our office.

But there are many more trees with spines than just Ceiba pentandra. So we have a long-range project to identify and then find and photograph each species. Below is a set of specimens that we located over the Christmas holidays (we work all holidays, as they are a convenient time to get out of the office and into the rain forests and fields).


Ceiba pentandra FLAAR Garden Feb 2013 photo 1285

Ceiba pentandra spines at FLAAR.


Spices, flavoring, condiments, herbs to flavor cacao

Spices, flavoring, condiments, herbs to flavor cacao. Then we will have a series of publications on spices used by the Maya (and Aztec) to flavor cacao. It turns out that in the time before the arrival of the Spanish that cacao was primarily a vehicle for adding a diverse slew of tasty flowers and other plant chemicals to your body.

I drink dark chocolate every day so I can stay alert in the mid-afternoon (when I should be taking a siesta). But it is straight dark chocolate: I add only milk and brown sugar (real brown sugar, not white sugar colored with molasses).

But if I had been an Aztec priest or Maya lord, I would be adding a remarkable range of flowers, herbs, seeds, and other chemically active plant substances. The Aztec or Maya lord would probably select whether he wanted simply to get high, or have visions, or jump into the hammock with a dozen ladies-in-waiting.

Sophie and Michael Coe, and several other knowledgeable scholars, have written on the various flavorings for cacao. But almost never are the plants and flowers shown in detail.

When I was corresponding with Professor Coe a few years ago, he encouraged me to look deeper into the flavorings for cacao, so I have been working on this.

I now have an ample list of cacao flavorings (significantly longer than lists in most books on cacao of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica). Now our goal is to identify each plant and see where we can find each plant, flower, or spice in Guatemala. And go photograph it at high resolution.

We will start publishing our preliminary results as soon as funding is available.


Searching for Maya ethnobotanical information: 2011 - 2012

We had so many field trips to find and photograph Maya ethnobotanical species that I can't even list them all. Even the entire Christmas week we were out photographing herbs, spices, fruits in small villages around Rio Dulce (guided by Kevin Lock).

I then found three "ceiba caves," namely "caves" in the lower trunk portion of giant sacred Ceiba pentandra trees. You could even walk into these hollow openings; their interior space was hollowed out by decades of termines.

We also did a second visit to tap blood sap from one of the three species of Guatemalan tree that has potential for making the human heart which is mentioned in the Popol Vuh.

Plus we found lots of pochote trees, some great spiny ceiba trees (of both species). So there will be lots of new FLAAR Reports for 2012 on our Maya ethnobotanical discoveries.


Tikal National Park, exhibit of photos of plants and animals by Nicholas Hellmuth

invitacion tikal photo expo biodiversidad mundo maya tikal patrimonio cultural
Mirtha Cano, biologist at the Parque Nactional Tikal has organized an exhibit of photographs of flora and fauna of Tikal by Nicholas Hellmuth, Jaime Leonardo, and Eduardo Sacayon. You can visit this photo exhibitwhen you are at Tikal.

If your zoo, botanical garden, university, or garden club would like a comparable exhibit in your home town anywhere in the world (and would like Dr Hellmuth to lecture on Mayan ethnobotany and/or Mayan ethnozoology: on sacred plants and animals in Mayan murals, art and religious iconography) all this is available to you. Contact info

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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

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

Tikal Related Reports


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