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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Bibliography on Habenaria Orchid genus from the Mayan areas

Aquatic orchids do exist, especially in Peten

There are aquatic orchids in Tabasco, Campeche, and Peten. I estimate these same species of aquatic orchids also exist in Quintana Roo and Belize. Botanists have already found these orchids atop reed-like material out in rivers, lakes, swamps, and aguadas. But almost no photographs exist; photos are not the style of botanical research based on beautiful drawings, paintings, and traditional herbarium records. However there is no newspaper-flattened image of Habenaria or Bletia orchid which will show how deep into the water, or how high above the water, the bulb and roots were in that particular eco-system. Plus some aquatic orchids, such as Bletia purpurea, are also perfectly happy in terrestrial eco-systems far far far away from any river or lake (as long as there is lots of fog, drizzle, rain, and humidity much of the year).

By later in 2019 we will have enough color photographs to be prepared to give PowerPoint presentations in full color to orchid societies around the world.

List of Orchids from the genus Habenaria in Guatemala:

The list several paragraphs below, according to Ames & Corell (1985), are the Habenaria species found in Guatemala. The first ones, in bold, are the ones that are believed can be found in Lake Yaxha and adjacent Lake Sacnab, Petén, according to the georeferenced records given by GBIF (www.gbif.org/species/2828306).

We are interested in making an inventory of all orchids related to the two large lakes in Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo, Peten, Guatemala.

So any Habenaria species found in Lake Peten Itza, Lake Macanche, etc, is likely to be found in a similar eco-system around the Yaxha lakes. By no means are all Habenaria species aquatic; we know one is, and would not be surprised to find a second one that is also water-related. But the one Bletia that we have found already, plus the one Habenaria repens, is plenty to document what we wish to have added in articles and monographs: aquatic orchids can be seen in Guatemala. Orchid botanist Fredy Archila is fully aware of this and we keep in touch with him.

Any Habenaria species found along rivers elsewhere in Peten may possibly be alongside Rio Ixtinto (at the southwest end of Lake Yaxha, adjacent to Topoxte island). But so far no aquatic orchids along the river shore.

In late October Nicholas Hellmuth found Bletia purpurea a water-related orchid which flourishes between one and two meters away from the shore. Since most people had not previously seen a “water-related orchid” they simply did not believe it. So Hellmuth and the team from FLAAR Mesoamerica returned to Yaxha in the last week of November 2018 and noted that the orchids had their roots wrapped around “tule” root masses, but at the level of the water. We found that several of the Bletia purpurea orchids had roots which were clearly down in the water. We will document this in a separate FLAAR report. The point is that there may be more than one genus of orchids of Guatemala which are associated with water.

In December Hellmuth and the FLAAR Mesoamerica team returned to Yaxha to look for aquatic and riparian orchids. IDAEH-CONAP team kindly provided a boat and park rangers. We found many more areas where Bletia purpurea was flowering because this was the first time we had the boat long enough to search the northeast coast, east coast, and east part of the south coast. We also found this aquatic orchid as we entered the “far southwestern Cenote swamp-like area.”

However during two days in the November field trip we did not yet found any Habenaria orchids (probably because the reeds are so thick, that unless an orchid is in full bloom they would not be noticeable). Since Bletia purpurea orchid flowers are pink or purple, they are easy to see through the dense mass of reed grass. But Habenaria flowers will be a definite challenge to find unless we can learn in which month they bloom elsewhere.

Senaida Ba finds the first Habenaria repens orchid to be documented for Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo

At first we estimated that Habenaria orchids will be found around the lakes and/or Rio Ixtinto in Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo. But we now realize these Habenario repens orchids often prefer swamp-like ecosystems. So far we have not found them around the shore of the lakes nor Rio Ixtinto. Instead Senaida Ba found one single Habenario repens orchid plant physically on the edge of a stagnant pool of water around the edge of the Savanna of 3 Fern Species (south of Laguna Perdida which is high on a hill). Laguna Lankaja is at much lower elevation several hundred meters to the south.

Habenaria repens founded at Savanna 3 Ferns, Yaxha

The Habenaria repens is between Senaida and Nicholas. Senaida is the person who noticed this orchid.

Although this aquatic orchid is well known for Mesoamerica, to our knowledge no botanist has found it previously in the Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo. Thus we are able to add another plant to the list of what is available to study in this park. We thank the co-administrators of the PNYNN for coordinating our field trip to this remote area of the park. It was a six hour hike back-and-forth, plus a boat ride to the far west end of Lake Yaxha (at which point you have to climb three very steep hills (then climb down them before climbing up the next one).

We also like to do library research (as you can see from our dozens of annotated bibliographies that we post on our FLAAR web sites). But to study plants I would rather hike six hours (after flying to Guatemala, and driving over 1,200 kilometers round trip from Guatemala City to reach the park) and experience the plant and flowers in-person than see a dead wilted, folded specimen in a herbarium.

The park has considerable potential for ecotourism, avitourism (bird watching tourism), and lots of potential for helping local Mayan people learn to protect these ecosystems so they can learn what handicrafts can be made from local plants that can be sold to tourists (obviously not grabbing the plants in the park, but finding the same plants outside the park) and then having training to learn which plants tourists will want to see and experience close up.

99% of orchid specialists with whom I have spoken told me they were not aware of water-related orchids: so the Yaxha park has immediate potential to become a travel destination for all the orchid societies and bromeliad societies in countries around the world.

Additional species of orchids may be found near water in the future

The species marked in bold may be in other moist ecosystems of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo. But all such ecosystems are a challenge to get to (which is why no earlier botanist has yet found aquatic or water-related orchids in this park).

  • Habenaria bractescens
  • Habenaria crassicornis
  • Habenaria monorrhiza
  • Habenaria repens
  • Habenaria strictissima
  • Habenaria distans
  • Habenaria alata
  • Habenaria clypeata
  • Habenaria entomantha
  • Habenaria eustachya
  • Habenaria limosa
  • Habenaria novemfida
  • Habenaria pauciflolia
  • Habenaria quinqueseta

I estimate that several more genera of water-related orchids can also be found in the diverse water-related ecosystems of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo. If you are an orchid lover or member of an orchid society, FLAAR is a tax exempt research and educational institute, and your donation could make it possible for us to find even more water-related orchids. You and your family could also join us on the search, either in-person, or via video that we can send back from our field trips. Your entire orchid society can have a guided tour to the orchids of our part of Guatemala (there are hundreds more orchids up in the trees, as well as terrestrial orchids). There is a nice hotel available at the entrance to the park.

Habenaria repens founded at Savanna 3 Ferns, Yaxha

Click to enlarge
Photo by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth with a NIKON D5, lens AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm
f/2.8G IF-ED; settings: f/3, speed 1/1600, ISO 640.

PDF, Articles, Books on Habenaria orchids
to encourage searching for them in Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo.

  • BATISTA, João A. N., BIANCHETTI, Luciano de Bem, GONZALEZ-Tamayo, Roberto, FIGUEROA, Xochitl M. C. and Phillip J. CRIBB
  • 2011
  • A Synopsis of New World Habenaria (Orchidaceae) II. Harvard Papers in Botany, Vol. 16, No. 2, pp. 233-273.

    I have not yet been able to find part I on the Internet. Part II is M through Z (species).
  • BATISTA, João A. N.,, Karina, BORGES, Marina, DE FARIA,
    Karina, PROITE, RAMALHO, Aline, SALAZAR, Gerardo

    and Cássio VAN DEN BERG
  • 2013
  • Molecular phylogenetic of the species-rich genus Habenaria (Orchidaceae)
    in the New World based on nuclear and plastid DNA sequences. Molecular
    phylogenetics and evolution. Vol. 67, No. 1. Pages 95-109.

    Available Online:
  • 2008
  • Catálogo de las orquídeas de Chiapas. Lacandonia. Vol. 2, No. 2. 100 pages.

    Habenaria repens Nutt. (1818) Gen. N. Amer. Pl. 2: 190 (1818) DISTRIBUCIÓN GENERAL.- USA, México (Chiapas, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Querétaro, Tabasco, Veracruz), Guatemala hasta Sudamérica CHIAPAS.- Soto, Salazar y Hágsater (1995): Palenque; Salto de Agua; W de Catazajá; Espejo y López-F., 1: 66 (1997); Cabrera (1999) (Beutelspacher pages 63-64). Salto de Agua is a water area (that I visited half a century ago). But no specific mention that this orchid is aquatic or riperian or even whether terrestrial or epiphytic. Fortunately, from many many other resources, we now recognize Habenaria repens as about as aquatic as you can get in certain water areas of Mesoamerica.

    Available Online:
  • DIX, Margaret and Michael DIX
  • 2000
  • Orchids of Guatemala: a revised annotated checklist. Missouri Botanical Garden Press.
    61 pages.
  • LOT, Antonio
  • 2004
  • Text

    Available Online:
  • NOGUERA, Eliana and William CETZAL
  • 2014
  • Revisión e integración del conocimiento de las Orchidaceae de Tabasco, México. Botanical Sciences. Vol. 92, No. 4. Pages 519-540.

    Available Online:
  • PEREZ Sanchez, Jose Manuel
  • 2007
  • Desarrollo local en el Tropico Mexicano. Los Camellones Chontales de Tucta, Tabasco, Master’s Thesis, Social Anthropology, Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico, D.F.

    Mentions Bletia purpurea and Habenaria repens as aquatic (page 31).

    Free download on Internet.


Suggested webpages with photos and information on Habenaria orchids from Yaxha


Photos and information of Habenaria repens.

Most commonly encountered here in North America is the water spider orchid (Habenaria repens). It is a relatively robust species, however, considering that even its flowers are green, it is often hard to spot. Though it will root itself in saturated soils along the shore, it regularly occurs in standing water throughout the southeast. Often times, it can be found growing amidst other aquatic plants like pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) and duck potato (Sagittaria latifolia). Because it can reproduce vegetatively, it isn't uncommon to find floating mats of comprised entirely of this orchid. The excellent photograph on this web page shows dozens of these Habenaria repens orchids physically out in the water; they are rooted “in the ground” but the ground is below water. In other words they are rooted in the bottom of the shore (these in this photo are not floating).

Photos of Habenaria crassicornis.

Photo and information of Habenaria bractescens.

Photos of Habenaria crassicornis.

Photo and information of Habenaria monorrhiza.

Photos and information of Habenaria repens.

Photo and information of Habenaria strictissima.


Updated August 2019; previously updated January 2, 2019
First posted, November 2018

Bibliography prepared by Marcella Sarti, FLAAR Mesoamerica. Updates by Nicholas Hellmuth, FLAAR (USA).


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