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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The Curious Plant that Looks like a Fungus

Posted June 23, 2022

In May we continue our exploration in the Reserva de Biósfera Maya (RBM). We had the opportunity to visit the "Multiple Use Zone" where the forestry concessions are located, we focus mainly on “La Gloria” concession. Among the most interesting plant species that we found was the genus Helosis, since at first glance it looks like a fungus. But then we realize it was actually a plant because we have documented it previously in Sayaxche, Petén.

Why does it look like a fungus?

Balanophoraceae is a family of 17 genera of holoparasitic geophytes, that means, a plant that takes all its nutrients from the host plant because it does not have chlorophyll in its tissues. It has roots characterized by an aberrant vegetative and underground body, without leaves, stems or roots, called tuber, which may have rhizome-like branches. These parasitic plants attach to the root of host shrubs and trees of dark tropical forest species. The inflorescences are the only aerial part of the plant and several of them can appear along the rhizomes, making it difficult or impossible to define an individual. A peculiarity of the inflorescences is their endogenous origin (in relation to their own tissues), a unique characteristic in angiosperms. Its flowers are minute and a wide range of extreme reductions can be observed between genera, especially in female flowers and similarly in its seeds, with embryos consisting of few cells (Hansen, 1980; Kuijt, 1969; Mauseth, Hsiao & Montenegro, 1992, Heide, 2008; Su, Hu, Anderson, Der & Nickrent, 2015).

Helosis is one of the genera of the Balanophoraceae family It includes three species, the recently discovered H. antillensis, H. ruficeps and H. cayennensis, that has two varieties: var. cayennensis and var. Mexicana (Gonzalez, Sato & Marazzi, 2019)

helosis cayennensis

Helosis cayennensis being pollinated by Trigona fulviventris. La Gloria forest concession, Reserva de Biósfera Maya (RBM) May, 2022. Photograph by Edwin Solares

Botanical Information:

It has light brown tubers, irregular, with a rough surface, about 20 to 35 mm long by 20-30 mm wide and no more than 20 mm high, located about 5 cm deep. The rhizomes are 4-5 mm in diameter, light brown, branched, aphyllous, arranged parallel to the surface, about 5-7 cm deep. they form a network that begins in the tubers and on them the flower stems are formed. The stems of the underground system are cylindrical, solid, and measure up to 18 cm in height and 1.5 cm in diameter. The base of the peduncle is ring-shaped with bracts 2-5 mm high, welded at their bases and with irregular triangular ends. The inflorescence rises at the end of the floral peduncle, it is an oval spadix that in the adult state reaches about 2.5 to 3 cm wide and up to 5-6 cm long, it is covered by capitate bracts, hexagonal in tangential view, deciduous, 2.5mm wide by 5.5mm high (Fontana & Popoff. 2006).




Exploring Savanna #10, Parque Nacional Laguna de Tigre

Posted June 17, 2022. Written by Nicholas Hellmuth

It is exhausting to hike from base camp (tents far away along Rio Sacluc) to reach Savanna #10. So we have to stop to rest a few minutes every hour (or every kilometer). This seasonally inundated savanna is so large and has so many different ecosystems within its several square kilometers that we visit here several times each year (since in each month different plants are flowering).

Three of the team are resting up in the calabash tree, the other ten are below. A football field behind us are lots of clusters of tasiste palm, found in most seasonally inundated savannas.

Edible Vanilla

Photo by Emanuel Chocooj with DJI Phantom 4 drone June 5, 2022.




Theobroma species and varieties of native cacao

Posted June 13, 2022

Cacao of Guatemala (and surrounding countries of Central America) comes in different species, different surface texture, different colors: each kind of Mayan cacao for great chocolate of different flavors.


Theobroma-bicolor-cacao Theobroma-cacao

Normally this kind of “cacao” is in the western hills of the Maya Highlands. We have also found thousands of this species in groves all around remote areas of Alta Verapaz. We have been driving thousands of kilometers each year to reach remote areas to find and photograph (in high resolution) the different colors and surface texture of different Theobroma species (and different varieties) of cacao. You might enjoy exploring these cacao orchards with us; all are around homes of local people.

I was totally surprised to find this species in the Maya Lowlands (literally near sea level). We thank Cornelio for bringing this to our team last week while we were in this area doing research.

The chemicals from this pod are used to treat other plants to cure them (it releases so many chemicals we have to open the window of the studio and shut the door so the gasses don’t spread throughout the entire office).

This is cacao from a Mayan home garden. The home owner kindly donated the cacao pod so we could bring it back to our photo studio to use lighting to show you the true structure of the surface. Other pods are smooth as silk: we are finding lots of different surface textures. As soon as a donation of funding is kindly sent, we will return to the village with a portable studio and photograph each size, shape, and color up in the tree.

Lots more to come (we have been studying Mayan cacao for over 40 years).

These photographs are in the photo studio at the FLAAR Mesoamerica headquarters, Guatemala City.

We use Westcott studio lighting for illuminating the pods. These are better than any of the Made in China lighting.

Photo by Nicholas Hellmuth, iPhone 13 Pro Max.




Maya Theobroma cacao pods come in many different surface textures

Posted June 08, 2022. Written by Nicholas Hellmuth

We have been studying cacao of the Maya since doing photography for Sophie Coe and Michael Coe’s book on chocolate and cacao many decades ago. I drove all the way to Tabasco to do photographs for this book (in all three editions). I have also photographed cacao in the Soconusco area of Chiapas and throughout Guatemala. We have photographed Theobroma bicolor (pataxte, balamte) in the Maya Highlands of Guatemala.

Yesterday we did a lot of photography of Mayan cacao pods of diverse sizes, shapes, colors, and surface textures. Here is one pod: lots more shapes to come in future FLAAR Reports.




Spanish interview at El Búho with Dr Nicholas Hellmuth

Posted June 6, 2022

Dr Nicholas Hellmuth recently gave an interview at El Búho and he shared his comments and thoughts at Canal Más TV, where he spoke about some of his wide experience in Guatemala, FLAAR Mesoamérica and MayanToons. Below you can watch the entire interview.




Another wetland savanna with two fern species (RBM, Peten)

Posted May 29, 2022

About two years ago I was surprised to find a savanna with three fern species; part of the ground was literally a “savanna of low ferns.” So I named it the Savanna of 3 Fern Species. This is in the far northwest part of Parque Nacional Yaxha, Nakum and Naranjo (PNYNN).

A few weeks ago, over a hundred kilometers to the west, we found a wetland area that we named Aguada Los Dos Helechos. Two fern species stood out; the low ferns creating ground cover; the giant fern isolated in a few parts. This giant fern we have found in many areas of PNYNN and in the mangrove swamps of the Municipio de Livingston, Izabal. The giant fern has edible parts; the smaller more common fern we need to identify. We find it around the edges of savannas in the Parque Nacional Laguna del Tigre (PNLT) to the west.

These ferns grow over 2 meters tall; but they are not tree ferns (tree ferns are in the cloud forests of the Highlands and rain forests of the coastal areas of Izabal). These ferns of Peten have no thick or tall trunk. The genus is Acrostichum; I estimate species is danaeifolium, giant leather fern. Aerial photograph by Emanuel Chocooj with DJI drone camera




Aechmea magdalenae, Bromeliaceae family, pita floja, ixtle

Posted May 24, 2022

A focus of our 5-year project (2021-2025) of coordination and cooperation with CONAP for the entire Reserva de la Biosfera Maya of Peten is to find, photograph, document, and publish ecosystems (and species of flora and fauna). I am especially interested in wetlands, including seasonally inundated wetlands. So the pital areas surrounding seasonally dry/seasonally filled aguadas is part of my “to do” list. We have visited and photographed these pital areas before but I wanted good aerial photos so our new drone pilot came with two different models of DJI drones. We register the drone usage with the park administration before arrival and we have GPS MAPS with Garmin equipment showing every place we have been each day.

The spiny terrestrial bromeliad, Aechmea magdalenae, can be easily found in two pital habitats near the mud road between Yaxha and Nakum.

When conservation entities are reforesting areas destroyed for cattle, it would help to plant Aechmea magdalenae around the aguada (in areas reached by water only at the height of the wet season).

The soft yummy liquid and pulp around the seeds are edible. The fiber from the leaves is one of the highest regarded strings in Mesoamerica.

To find the path to reach these two pital areas it helps to have assistance by Teco (Moises Daniel Perez Diaz) and other knowledgeable guides and park rangers. The pital to the west is about 100 meters; the pitel to the east is a bit less. The fruits and flowers are very photogenic (only one fruit in mid-May, so other months are better).

Best place to stay is Ecolodge El Sombrero, just before the entrance to Parque Nacional Yaxha, Nakum and Naranjo.

On the road from Yaxha to Nakum my colleague riding to the front on the motorcycle noticed an ocellated turkey, a magnificent bird of the rainforest ,so he jumped off of the motorcycle on and hiked into a trail so he could have a better look. as he diverged from the sendero to see the ocellated turkey disappear in the jungle depths, he lifted his sight to the canopy forest and was pleasantly surprised to find a wild vanilla orchid vine flower wide open.

A wild vanilla plant is something I had never experienced before, from the moment the first wonder cry for the orchid was heard I couldn’t contain my movement to see it, so I prepared my Sony mirrorless camera and macro lens to photograph this rare rain forest flower. It was identified as Vanilla insignis.




Introduction to Mammals and the 5 Felines in Guatemala

Posted May 23, 2022

Do you want to know more about the mammals and the five felines of Guatemala? These conferences are what you were looking for.

Sign up here to receive the ZOOM link:

We are waiting for you on Wednesday May 25th and Thursday May 26th via Facebook Live or ZOOM at 6:00 pm (Guatemala Time). *CONFERENCE FOR ALL PUBLIC.


  • MSc. Pilar Negreros - Knowing the Mammals
  • Dr. Nicholas Hellmuth - The five felines of the Mayan Culture: Attributes and physical differences.


  • Vivian Hurtado
  • Victor Mendoza

Organized by: FLAAR Mesoamerica, MayanToons and FLAAR USA





Edible vanilla orchids grows wild throughout the Maya Lowlands and Maya Highlands

Posted May 20, 2022

Between the decades 1930’s to 2000, I estimate that more than half the botanical “identifications” of wild vanilla as Vanilla fragrans or accepted name today, Vanilla planifolia, are incorrect. How can vanilla vines be identified precisely if there is no complete flower? When crushed, flattened, and dried not as much detail remains. For these reasons we do photography of the flowers. Snag is that a vine flowers only about two weeks and each flower is open only about 3 hours. People we know in Peten tell us they know the vanilla orchid vines but have never seen them flower in 50 years of being in Peten. Our guide said he has been trying to find them flowering the last four years. In May 2022 our FLAAR field work research team found Vanilla insignis orchids flowering on three vines (two in PNYNN and one about 50 kilometers to the west). We thank Guatemalan orchid specialist Fredy Archila for identifying the flowers that we sent by WhatsApp the day we found them.

The FLAAR team has many years experience finding wild vanilla orchid vines in Alta Verapaz, Izabal, and Peten. But to find one flowering out in a remote area is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In 2023 we will return and find-and-photograph more now that we know where and when they flower (keeping in mind that the rainfall and temperatures vary every year).

If you are a botanist, ethnobotanist, be sure to have a permit from CONAP to do field work in any national park, plus permit from the co-administration of the park. FLAAR has a 5-year permit (2021-2025) of cooperation and coordination for flora, fauna, and ecosystem fieldwork for the entire 21,000 square kilometers (over 5-million acres) of the whole Reserva de la Biosfera Maya. FLAAR specializes in macro photography of insects and details of flowers plus video, panorama and aerial drone photography of ecosystems. Since we have been doing field work for many decades we know the local guides and local people in the villages.




Bignonia binata flowers unexpectedly found at ground level

Updated June 14, 2022
Previously Posted May 19, 2022

In early May we found a tower of flowers growing out of the side of a liana (woody vine) that had fallen to the ground in some earlier wind storm. So we all stopped to take lots of photographs. Here are a few samples. This is a large liana, a thick woody vine. It climbs high into the tree tops so you rarely even see any leaves. To find this liana on the ground with a spire of flowers in full bloom was unexpected.

Edible Vanilla

Every botanist has a different classification; most call it Bignonia binata. But I estimate it is potentially Bignonia noterophila Mart. ex DC.

Photograph by Nicholas Hellmuth, iPhone 13 Pro Max, May 7, 2022.

Everyone suggests it is Bignonia binata. But Kew says that species is: Amazonia, Caribbean, Orinoquia, Pacific. Elevation range: 0–540 m a.s.l. Native to Colombia. Colombian departments: Amazonas, Antioquia, Atlántico, Caquetá, Chocó, Meta, Nariño, Putumayo, Santander, Sucre, Valle del Cauca, Vaupés, Vichada. (https://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/108602-1).
So NOT listed for Guatemala; but a synonym, Adenocalymma ocositense, is listed for Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

So has the FLAAR Mesoamerica team found and photographed and published a plant not yet documented for Peten? Need to check all the herbaria of Guatemala which are not yet on-line.

Then we found more of these lianas flowering high in the treetops of the far southeast part of Parque Nacional Laguna del Tigre (PNLT). So we are preparing two reports (one on the liana flowers in central Peten; the other report on the liana flowers in PNLT). In these FLAAR botanical reports later this summer we will cite each different botanist as to whether they use the name Bignonia binate or Bignonia noterophila.


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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

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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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