How many species of Magnolia (or Talauma) are in Guatemala, and where to find these Magnolia?

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Today magnolia is chopped down to make paneling for walls and especially floors. This is sad since the tree is exterminated and there are not enough programs to aid in reforestation of this species.

Magnolia was used as a fragrance for the home (and I assume for the garden) for years.

Magnolia is used for medicinal purposes throughout Mexico, and as a flavoring for cacao of the Aztecs in particular. With so many uses by local people, we have tried to find this tree to record its flowers. But the tree grows in remote areas, often far from roads, so not even 4WD helps.

We sent out several plant scout teams, but until we can raise money to obtain telephoto lenses for the scout teams, they can’t record the flowers until the full studio is sent out (this requires a large vehicle to hold the team and the equipment).

But at least now we have a better idea where to find magnolia (coj in the K’ekchi’ (Q’eqchi’) Mayan language. We need to learn its name in Ixil Mayan, as that is the language of the El Quiche area (past Nebaj) where one species of magnolia is located (on Finca La Perla property). There would be another Mayan language for where Magnolia could be found on the Guatemalan-Mexican border in Huehuetenango (there are 21 distinct Mayan languages in Guatemala alone; and a few more in adjacent southern Mexico).

How many magnolia species are in the Aztec and Maya areas of Mesoamerica?

The focus is on Magnolia mexicana flowers, also known as heart flower. Since botanists constantly revise genus designations as modern DNA and other modern technology makes it possible to better identify which plants are related (or unrelated) with which others, the Magnolia mexicana is often called Talauma mexicana.


Magnolia mexicana, taken in Antigua Guatemala, with a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III.

The other magnolia which is specifically listed as being usable as a flavoring is Magnolia dealbata. However this is unlikely available in Guatemala. In our bibliography on magnolia we also include pertinent articles on other magnolia species of Mexico and Guatemala such as:

  • Magnolia mayae
  • Magnolia quetzal

After trying to find magnolia trees in Guatemala, I came to the conclusion that it is unlikely that many magnolia species other thanMagnolia yoroconte were native to the Peten-Campeche-Belize core of major Maya cities of the Classic period (and even fewer in Yucatan, Campeche, Quintana Roo or Tabasco).

So if any Maya king of priest wanted to flavor his cacao with magnolia, he would have to had raised the trees in a well maintained botanical garden in his home area, or brought the magnolia from considerable distances (remember, it’s by foot or canoe, not truck or train).

I have found that trees which require a very specific eco-system, such as Pachira aquatica, can indeed be grown almost anywhere in Mesoamerica, far from their natural habitat, if they are intelligently taken care of. I grow Pachira aquatica at 1500 meters elevation in Guatemala City. Older trees a mile away bloom profusely at the main botanical garden of Guatemala. And in the main square of Chisec, Alta Verapaz, there was a beautiful blooming zapotón tree (until the city fathers had all trees in the square butchered (including a Ceiba, the national tree of Guatemala) in order to put in a modern whatever (all we saw was the entire plaza bulldozed; they saved only one single other ceiba in the center)).

Uses of magnolia (Talauma); mexicana gets only one paragraph (Gardiner 2000:32).

(Gardiner 2000:160)

Grandtner lists two magnolia for Guatemala but does not list either Magnolia mexicana or Talauma mexicana.

“No two sources agree” on what to call “Magnolia dealbata” Zucc, whether Magnolia macrophylla var. dealbata D.L. Johnson (Grandtner :504) or whatever. But this does not occur in Guatemala.

Magnolia guatemalensis Donn. Sm.

Magnolia yoroconte Dandy (Chiapas to Honduras) (Grandtner :506) which implies this is present in Guatemala (which borders on Chiapas to the north and Honduras to the south).

Lists Magnolia mexicana D.C., Central American magnolia, kul ak’ in Northern Lacandon Maya area (Kashanipour and McGee 2004:55 and 62). The Lacandon language is a variant of Yucatec Maya spoken in Lowland Chiapas.

We do not list Magnolia grandiflora L. in our lists of magnolias of Guatemala since this species is clearly introduced in the last several hundred years. Magnolia grandiflora L. grows only in gardens: we have found it in Guatemala City and Antigua.

Parker 2008, Trees of Guatemala, pp. 485-486 Grandtner Kashanipour and McGee 2004, northern Lacandon
Magnolia guatemalensis Magnolia guatemalensis -
Magnolia yoroconte Magnolia yoroconte -
Talauma mexicana - Magnolia mexicana

Parker 2008, Trees of Guatemala, pp. 485-486
Magnolia guatemalensis - Alta Verapaz Baja Verapaz (unlikely) Zacapa, only in mountain fringe probably -
Magnolia yoroconte Huehuetenango Alta Verapaz - - Mexico, Belize, Honduras
Talauma mexicana Huehuetenango Alta Verapaz Baja Verapaz (unlikely) Izabal Southern Mexico, Honduras

Parker’s monograph is helpful, but probably 80% or more is a collection of data from all the basic standard sources which already exist for decades. Her years of work was mostly in the library and not out in the field finding new species. Nonetheless her book is absolute essential as a starting point.

Only recently and only in technical articles are other Magnolia species recognized

Magnolia lacandonica is very similar to M. mexicana, so not too many people would separate them (especially not before the article of Vazquez et al. 2013). Surely this should grow on the Guatemalan side of the border.

Magnolia quetzal is a new species only since 2013 (again Vazquez et al, but a different article).

The Magnolia Society lacks information on Magnolia outside garden areas…

This is surely an outstanding organization for magnolia aficinados in the USA, Europe, and Asia. But it is disappointing how little the Magnolia Society covers magnolias of Guatemala and adjacent Mexico to the immediate north. For a group of so many educated people, and an organization which one assumes is adequately funded, its coverage is clearly focused on popular areas of the world.

They use the word “international” and use the word “world” so often, it might be helpful to realize that southern Mexico, Guatemala, and adjacent Honduras (not to mention Belize and El Salvador) are a sizeable chunk of the world we live in (even if I did not happen to live and work in these countries for over 50 years).

I sent a polite note to mention this lapse in their web site and never got an answer.

I also have lived in Orlando, and worked in Singapore and China; plus in Europe. But again, “international” should include the entire world.

The web site EOL is even more worthless (at least the Magnolia Society has plenty of things for hobby gardeners in the US). I have no idea who funds this site (EOL), but their money could be better invested elsewhere.

Magnolia in Belize

Although Belize is adjacent to El Peten, it’s a long drive, plus a lot of time to cross the border back-and-forth, so we tend to do research in Guatemala or Honduras. Crossing into Honduras is easy (especially since for years our FLAAR photos were used by the government to showcase the beauty and importance of their Copan Maya ruins). mentions Magnolia yoroconte on the Maya Mountain divide.


First posted June 20, 2014, after sending out several teams to try to find surviving Magnolia trees in Guatemala.

PNYNN and Livingston reports

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