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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Nut is Spice, Mayan flavoring for cacao (cocoa, chocolate), leaves for tea and medicinal

Tropical spices, flavorings, seasoning all in one multi-spice seed

Allspice is not a commercial mixture of “all spices.” Allspice is a single tree whose nut-like seed pod has “all flavorings” all together in a single pod: cloves, traditional (back) pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg. All of these are European, Asian or Middle East spices. Allspice is found uniquely in Mesoamerica and elsewhere in Latin America.

Fortunately allspice does not have the effects of excessive amouts of nutmeg (there is a Guatemalan relative of nutmeg, used by the Maya, that is “identical” seed pod and aril structure and colors, but smaller than nutmeg and mace.

We spent four years searching for this Guatemalan tree and finally found it in remote areas: the seed pod and aril very photogenic. Although I have no hesitation to use allspice and drink pimiento gorda tea from leaves, I would not attempt to consume nutmeg or mace nor the Mayan species (even though I was a student at Harvard in the 1960’s, I don’t want to use nutmeg to get a high; I am so happy when I am learning about plants, animals, and insects, that I don’t need drugs).

So we study Mayan ethnobotany, but do not focus on Mayan ethnobotanicals, in part because we do not buy or sell plants, seeds, fruits, or medicinal products: we do research, photography, and publications.

In local Spanish it is called pimiento gorda (large pepper (seed), because pepper from the rest of the world is a very small seed. On the Internet it is often called Jamaica pimento though in fact it is native to Guatemala and all surrounding countries.

The botanical name is Pimenta dioica. Synonyms are Pimenta officinalis. Pimenta racemosa is a different species. All are of the Myrtaceae, the myrtle family. Parker includes only Pimenta dioica in her book on Trees of Guatemala (2008: 641). She does not include Pimenta racemosa whatsoever because the bay rum tree is from the West Indies (Caribbean islands).

Pimienta Gorda flowers at Hotel Ecolodge el Sombrero Yaxha, April, 2018 by Nicholas Hellmut
Nikon D5 , 600mm Lens, f/4.0, 1/2000, ISO 1000

The leaves of pimiento gorda, allspice, are used to make tea

When I lived at Yaxha for five annual seasons of work doing the map of the main site (1970-1974) and updating the century-old map of Nakum, we drank allspice tea at least once a week.

When I lived 12 months at Tikal, while on a year-off from Harvard as archaeology student intern for the University of Pennsylvania Tikal Project, we drank allspice tea occasionally.

Allspice and the leaves are also medicinal

This web page is a discussion of the tree as a source of a spice, a flavoring for cacao beverages (cocoa, chocolate); and the leaf is for tea. But especially the leaf has medicinal properties. However I simply drink the tea because it is a nice change from commercially processed tea. When you live in the remote rain forests there is no supermarket nearby, so it helps to have tea from local plants.

Where can you find pimiento gorda, allspice, in Guatemala?

Tikal National Park and the Yaxha area of the Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo are literally filled with allspice trees. At Tikal they are in the private area behind the smaller museum, to the left of Jaguar Inn hotel.

At Yaxha the allspice trees are common, with several of them on the hotel grounds of the Ecolodge El Sombrero (just before the entrance to the park). Then there are allspice trees around the buildings of the park administration, and more around the ruins.

In Alta Verapaz you can find them growing on hillsides going into the mountains from Tucuru towards Senahu. This is an all-day drive with 4WD that takes you through awesome mountains. Be sure to have someone with you who knows which road to take at every crossroads: no signs anywhere. You will not see one single solitary tourist other than perhaps at the waterfall to the left of the road (an hour or so after leaving Tucuru). Unless it’s Quetzal bird season, as there is a quetzal preserve another hour up the mountains (turn to the left). Turn to the right to continue on to Senahu: this is the stretch that is almost guaranteed to have no tourists.

Once you get to Senahu you can drive to Cahabon (awesome scenery, but very narrow 4WD trail to drive on; often “road” is barely a description). From Senahu to Teleman it’s a modern concrete highway. Then half-paved and half-gravel to El Estor and Rio Dulce (but it’s a highway even when unpaved).

There are other places in Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, Honduras and elsewhere to find allspice. Frankly it and palo de jiote are my two absolutely favorite trees due to their peeling bark.

Smooth Peeling Bark

We will have a separate FLAAR report on the bark of this tree. We will compare it with palo de jiote bark (also peeling but more rust-red). And another “smooth” trunk (after the bark has peeled off) is the guava tree. Guava, Psidium species, is the same Myrtaceae family as Pimenta dioica.

What do you need to accomplish good photographs of spice flowers?

How to photograph flowers high in a jungle tree: allspice, Pimenta dioica?

First it helps to find a tree where the branches are low, so you can photograph with a 100mm or 200mm tele macro lens. Or try to find a tree where you are up on a Mayan pyramid so you can photograph down so you see the flowers from above. Or find a tree in a gully: the idea is you want to be above the branches or at the same level.

In the hotel the branches were high and I had to use a 600mm prime telephoto lens. We do have zoom lenses but we try to avoid them because you get more precision with a prime lens. Plus we do not use any after-market telephoto lenses: and never a Tamron or comparable. If you want a good photograph it helps to have a good lens (plus a place filled with dozens of different flowering trees and beautiful birds such as the hotel Ecolodge El Sombrero, Yaxha, Peten, Guatemala).

Further reading on allspice

We have a team of university students working at FLAAR Mesoamerica doing bibliographies of each plant and animal of the Mayan world. So we will eventualy have a list of suggested reading on allspice. But in the meantime, here is one informative web page:



First Posted April 2018


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