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

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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 Combretum fruticosum and Combretum argenteum in Yaxha area of Peten

Remarkable flower structure: Combretum fruticosum (Loefl.) Stuntz

Botanical name is Combretum fruticosum (Loefl.) Stuntz. Local names of course depend on in what part of Mesoamerica you ask, and whether you ask a local person or a botanist. One name is peineto (in Guatemala). Other sites call it flor de fuego, though so far 100% of the flowers of Combretum fruticosum around Yaxha are pure yellow: only the seed pod was red. However on the Internet, you see the name flame red. Perhaps we will experience this color in mid-February when we return to Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo?

Orange Flame Vine is the name most commonly used; Chameleon Vine is also listed but not used as often. But as we will learn later either there are two species: red inflorescence and yellow inflorescence, or there is one species with different colors for various factors.

Called bottlebrush in Belize (where it is listed as a food source of the black howler monkey (Silver, Ostro, Yeager and Horwich 1998: 269)).

In Yucatan the plant (based on its flowers) is called peine de mico or peine de milo. Flowers there in January, February, and March (www.cicy.mx/sitios/flora%20digital/ficha_virtual.php?especie=1179).

Called punto on www.conabio.gob.mx list (whose URL is too long to show here).

Is Combretum fruticosum a vine? Or a bush? Or a Tree?

Some botanists call it a tree (Grandtner and Chevrette 2013: 152).

It is sometimes called a bush (arbusto); other times viewed or considered as a vine. In one thesis it is called an arbusto in one tabulation (Garcia 2008: 8) but called an árbol in another in same thesis (page 92). In different eco-systems, and depending on what plants or trees are nearby, its growth style may vary?

Where to find Combretum fruticosum ?

I first noticed Combretum fruticosum six kilometers from the park entrance, at the left side of the road to Yaxha from Flores-to-Melchor de Mencos highway.

You can also see more Combretum fruticosum growing on living fence trees used for living fences along the main highway (from Flores (Santa Elena)-to-Melchor de Mencos).

I estimate it is also present among the treetops along Rio Ixtinto (which you enter on the west side of Topoxte Island in Lake Yaxha).

We found the thickest area of Combretum fruticosum growing atop low trees in the bajo area between Yaxha and Nakum. Most had to be photographed with an 800mm prime telephoto lens since they were so far away (we did not want to use a machete in the park to hack a trail to enable us to photograph them from closer). One tree had the vines accessible with a 200mm telephoto lens. It was only along the road from the main highway towards the park entrance that the vine flowers were low enough to do close-ups.

Combretum fruticosum can also be found in all the areas around Peten: Calakmul (Campeche) is one example (Portal de datos abiertos UNAM).

Plants of the Combretum genus are known as the bushwillows. family Combretaceae. Different species of Combretum vines, bushes, or trees can be found around the world: Africa, Asia, with several dozen in the Americas. The species we discuss on this page are all native to the Mayan areas of Mesoamerica.

Diverse Colors: Red for some flowers; yellow for others Are they two different species?

Standley and Williams say that Combretum fruticosum has red inflorescence and Combretum argenteum is “yellowish green to bright yellow…” (1962: 272). So according to these experienced botanists (albeit with very little experience in Peten area…) there are two species: one yellow inflorescence (Combretum argenteum) and one flame red inflorescence (Combretum fruticosum).

Yet the New York Botanical Garden web site has two photos labeled Combretum fruticosum; both are greenish yellow (and not red). Assumed from Belize and not from the botanical garden…. www.nybg.org/bsci/belize/Combretum_fruticosum.html

Same with a Czech Republic botanical web site. Even though the flower is yellow and not red, he still calls it Combretum fructicosum. www.biolib.cz/en/image/id47945/ Gorgeous photo, full-page size (which is helpful). Flowers are greenish to greenish-yellow. Photographed in Las Pacayas, Peten, February 2007.

And again for Ceibal (spelled in English as Seibal, near Sayaxche). www.biolib.cz/en/image/id45374/ Close-up of group of about six clusters: flowers are greenish to greenish-yellow. Again, even though it is yellow and not red, he still calls it Combretum fructicosum. Photographed in Ceibal (Seibal), Peten, February 2008. Sharp, clear, photo, at helpful LARGE size.

So clearly there is a botanical mishmash here: Standley and Williams claim two different species. But no one nowadays uses the botanical name Combretum argenteum. And no web site says Combretum argenteum is synonym for Combretum fructicosum.

I have assumed that there may be a red type and a yellow type. Or the yellow ones may turn red when they mature? Or the yellow ones are in different eco-systems than the red ones?

I hope botanists can sort this out and help me understand, as so far, all photos of Combretum fructicosum in botanical web pages are yellow (what’s on the Internet from people’s home gardens is typical copy-and-paste from the Internet; what counts is the name provided by botanists).

Lundell discusses only the names Combretum farinosum and Combretum mexicanum. His work in the 1930’s was primarily around La Libertad, savanna country, far west of the hills of Yaxha. So work from the 1930’s into 1960’s is not reliable for the names or color issues.

I accept Combretum fructicosum as yellow based on two photos of pure yellow inflorescences labeled as Combretum fruticosum by capable botanist Michael J. Balick (his co-author Rosita Arvigo says they are “used to make wine, known as “chew stick vine” (2015: 259). Balick et al. 2000 have zero photos but the common names feature the word yellow: sepillo Amarillo, yellow brush (in other words, they are not called red flame in Belize!).

Thus I tentatively conclude that the species in Yaxha is Combretum fructicosum and not Combretum argenteum. Information on Combretum argenteum on the Internet varies from nothing to never explaining its similarities or difference from other species. Yet Combretum argenteum is never listed as a synonym. Surely a major botanical garden can issue a peer-reviewed journal article on these issues and resolve the inconsistent naming. Plus, why has no botanist mentioned the yellow vs red discrepancies in the literature?

Lots of other species of Combretum genus in Guatemala

As examples I mention a few species; several other species also occur widely in Guatemala and obviously also in adjacent Chiapas, Tabasco, etc.

Combretum farinosum Kunth can be found in Baja Verapaz Chiquimula, El Progresso, Jalapa, Huehuetenango and also Petén. www.tropicos.org/Name/8200243?tab=distribution

Combretum decandrum Jacq. can be found in Chimaltenango, Chiquimula, Escuintla, Santa Rosa, and Retalhuleu. www.tropicos.org/Name/8200217?tab=distribution

Combretum laxum Jacq. is found in Belize and nearby

This other web page shows map: thus this species should also be in many parts of Peten: www.gbif.org/pt/species/7908521

Nowadays Combretum laxum is considered a synonym of Combretum fructicosum. However most authors writing on Belize plants still use the name Combretum laxum, even in 2014. Plus, Flora Mesoamerican web site does NOT list C. laxum as a synonym (www.tropicos.org/name/08200197?projectid=3). Hmmm, botanical name choices are definitely confusing.

Levy (1977) uses both Combretum laxum and Combretum fructicosum as separate plants.
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PDF, Articles, Books on Combretum fruticosum

  • ALONSO, Angel, VILLAREAL, María, SALAZAR, Luis, GOMEZ, Maricela, DOMINGUEZ, Fabiola and Alejandro GARCÍA
  • 2011
  • Mexican medicinal plants used for cancer treatment: Pharmacological, phytochemical and ethnobotanical studies. Journal of Ethnopharmacology No. 133. Pages 945–972

    Sold online:
  • BALICK, Michael J., NEE, Michael H. and Daniel E. ATHA
  • 2000
  • Checklist of the vascular plants of Belize, with common names and uses. Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden. 246 pages.
    Lists four species:
    Combretum cacoucia
    Combretum fruticosum (medicinal and “product”)
    Combretum laxum (so not a synonym to Balick et al.)
    Combretum erecta (tannin)

    Sold online:
  • 2018
  • Flora mesoamericana. Missouri Botanical Garden. Vol. 5.
  • GARCÍA, David, PALACIOS, Rodolfo and, Ma. De La Luz ARREGUÍN
  • 1994
  • Flora polinica de Chamela, Jalisco (familias Amaranthaceae, Combretaceae, Loasaceae, Martyniaceae, Papaveraceae, Tiliaceae y Violaceae) Acta Botánica Mexicana, No. 29 Pages 61-81.

    Available online:

    Note: Information of Combretum fruticosum (Loefl.) Stuntz on pages 65-66
  • GARCÍA-Merida, Zindy
  • 2008
  • Estudio de la comunidad vegetal del cortez amarillo Tabebuia chrysantha Jacq. Nicholson en Río Hondo Zacapa y servicios agronómicos realizados en los proyectos educativo-productivos de la asociación para el desarrollo integral de nororiente. Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala. 146 pages.

    Available online:
  • MARTÍNEZ, David, REYES, Jenaro, ANDRÉS, Agustina and Liliana PÉREZ
  • 2016
  • Flora útil de la comunidad “Rancho El Salado” en Jolalpan, México. Revista Iberoemericana de Ciencias. Vol. 3, No. 4. 15 pages.

    Available online:
  • STANDLEY, Paul C. and Louis O. WILLIAMS
  • 1962
  • Flora of Guatemala. Fieldiana: Botany, Vol. 24, Part VII, No. 2.

    Available online:
    Free download but no one bothered to correct the spelling in the scanned pages (and correct the accents).

    Combretaceae are mentioned on pages 271ff. He says: the inflorescences are yellow, in C. fruticosum various shades of red to almost gray (Standley and Williams 1962: 272).

Combretum argenteum Bertol. Fl. Guat. 412. 1840 (type from Volcan de Agua, Velasquez). C. erianthum Benth. PL Hartw. 73. 1841 (type from Retalhuleu, Hartweg 526) . Peine de mico; chupamiel. Moist or dry thickets, 600 meters or less; Zacapa; Jutiapa; Santa Rosa; Escuintla; Guatemala; Suchitepequez; Retalhuleu. Mexico; El Salvador; Honduras; Nicaragua. A large vine with brownish or grayish stems; leaves short petiolate, oblong-elliptic to oblong-ovate, mostly 10-15 cm. long, acute or acuminate, rounded or obtuse at the base, glabrous above or nearly so, yellowish-lepidote beneath and more or less puberulent or short pilose; inflorescence simple or branched, often forming large panicles, densely pilose with short spreading yellowish hairs; flowers usually yellowish green to bright yellow; calyx limb 5 mm. long; petals glabrous, about equaling the calyx lobes; fruits 2 cm. long, usually deep red at maturity, pilose or tomentose, broadly winged. Called "chupamiel" in El Salvador. This species is very similar to Combretum fruticosum but even at a distance is of easy separation, because in C. argenteum the inflorescences are yellow, in C. fruticosum various shades of red to almost gray.

(Standley and Williams 1962: 272)

Combretum fruticosum (Loefl.) Stuntz, U. S. Dept. Agr. Bur. PI. Ind. Seed & PI. Imp. No. 31: 86. 1914; L. Wms. Fieldiana, Bot. 29: 370. 1961. Gaura fruticosa Loefl. Inter Hispan. 248. 1758. Combretum secundum Jacq. Enum. 19. 1760. C. farinosum HBK. Nov. Gen. & Sp. 6: 110. 1823. C. Warszewiczianum Eichler in Mart. Fl. Bras. 12, pt. 2: 110. 1867. C. Benthamianum Van Heurck & Muell.- Arg. in Van Huerck, Obs. Bot. 220. 1871 (type from Bay of Fonseca, Honduras). C. farinosum var. phaenopetalum Donn.-Sm. Bot. Gaz. 23: 7. 1897 (type from Nenton, Huehuetenango, E. W. Nelson 3534). C. superbum Pittier, Contr. U. S. Nat. Herb. 18: 242. 1917. C. polystachyum Pittier, I.e. 243. C. phaenopetalum Pittier, I.e. 243. C. lepi- dopetalum Pittier, I.e. 245. Bejuco de cepillo (Pete"n); chupamiel; peineta. Dry or wet thickets or forest, 1,200 meters or less; Pete*n; Alta Verapaz; Izabal; El Progreso; Baja Verapaz; Zacapa; Chiquimula; Jutiapa; Jalapa; Santa Rosa; Escuintla; Guatemala; Sacatep^quez; Suchitepe"quez; Retalhuleu; Huehuetenango. Western and southern Mexico; British Honduras to El Salvador and Panama; probably northwestern South America.

A small or often large vine, climbing over trees, unarmed; leaves short-petiolate, broadly oval to elliptic-oblong, 5-15 cm. long, obtuse or short-acuminate, acute or obtuse at the base, lustrous above and glabrous or nearly so, densely lepidote beneath; flower spikes very thick and dense, secund, usually paniculate; flowers sweet-scented, usually blood-red to orange-red; petals 1.5-2 mm.long, obtuse or acute; stamens very long and exserted, red; fruit 2 cm. long, densely lepidote, broadly winged, usually dark red. Known in El Salvador by the names "chupamiel," "peineta," "chupamiel de peineta," and "chupachupa;" called "tietie" and "curassow comb" in British Honduras. The plant is a common and characteristic one of the forest and thickets of the Pacific lowlands. The showy flowers, full of nectar, are much visited by insects and hummingbirds. It is said that the cut stem yields a considerable amount of sap that may be drunk when water is lacking. In Mexico the branches are used for weaving coarse baskets, and generally they are employed as a substitute for rope, for tying firewood and other temporary uses. In the dry lower Motagua Valley the vine is in flower in late March. Material referred to C. fruticosum is rather variable in size of flowers and other characters, but not remarkably so. We are quite unable to separate most of the species of this group maintained by Pittier (Contr. U. S. Nat. Herb. 18: 241. 1917).

(Standley and Williams 1962: 273-275)

  • 1998
  • Feeding ecology of the black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra) in Northern Belize. American Journal of Primatology. Vol. 45. Pages 263-279.

    Available online:
  • STANDLEY, Paul C. and Samuel J. RECORD
  • 1936
  • The Forests and Flora of British Honduras. Publication 350, Botanical Series Vol. XII. Field Museum of Natural History. 432 pages and XIII plates.

    “Shrubs or trees, sometimes climbing…” (for the Combretaceae family in general; not for a specific species; page 276).

    Lists only Combretum cacoucia, Combretum farinosum, and Combretum mexicanum.


Suggested webpages with photos and information on Combretum fruticosum

Gorgeous photo, full-page size (which is helpful). Flowers are greenish to greenish-yellow. Even though it is yellow and not red, he still calls it Combretum fructicosum. Photographed in Las Pacayas, Peten, February 2007.

Close-up of group of about six clusters: flowers are greenish to greenish-yellow. Again, even though it is yellow and not red, he still calls it Combretum fructicosum. Photographed in Ceibal (Seibal), Peten, February 2008. Sharp, clear, photo, at helpful LARGE size.

Lists what country each species is found in (but not what part of each country…).

The absolute best photos but does not indicate where in the world it was filmed. Most are flame red; some are light green; not many are yellow. So the Peten version is either a “yellow zone” or we have to see in February whether any turned red.

Photos and description.

Photos and information.

Photos and information.


Information, distribution map, photos

Information and photos

Distribution map and photos


Information and photos


Updated January, 2020.
First posted, February 2019.
Bibliography prepared by Marcella Sarti, updated by Vivian Hurtado, FLAAR Mesoamerica.


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