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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Bio Itza, north of Lake Peten Itza

Bio Itza is a nature reserve worth visiting

Bio Itza is a protected nature reserve of 3,600-hectares, which is about 8,895 acres. 3,600 hectares is 36 square kilometers which is 13.89 square miles (so almost 14 square miles).

Bio Itza area is about 17 kilometers north of the town of San Jose. San Jose, on the steep hills along the north shore of Lake Peten Itza, is the regional capital of the large Municipio de San Jose, Departamento de Peten, Guatemala, Central America.

Bio Itza is best to reach with local guide or good map

Waze app will not likely get you to Bio Itza.

And a high-axel 4WD pickup is best way to arrive (if it has been raining). A 4WD SUV can probably get you here in the dry months, but the ruts in the rainy season are too deep for a SUV. 4WD is no good if your axel is caught as your tires dig down rather than forward (I have a tad of experience driving backroads from the 1970’s onward to bring eco-tourism people to remote areas or to visit Nakum; it took over 2 days to get my 4WD Dodge PowerWagon out of the ruts in the 1970’s).

In late June we got to Bio Itza in 4WD VW Amarok; was definitely an adventure as your vehicle moves diagonally when the mud decides this. But considering the Zygia trees that we found once we got here, the trip was definitely worth it.

Itza are the Maya people who lived in this area in the Post Classic

The Itza Maya arrived to Peten from Chichen Itza (Yucatan, Mexico) centuries ago.

To learn about the Itza Maya of Peten, first read The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, the diary of Bernal Díaz del Castillo. Then find and read the remarkable writings of Fray Andrés de Avendaño from his adventures of circa 1695.

Once you read both your understanding of the Mayan people of Peten will be very different. The Classic Maya cities of Tikal, Yaxha, Nakum, Naranjo, Uaxactun and hundreds of other cities were long ago abandoned but there were still plenty of Mayan villages and even ceremonial centers in towns such as Tayasal.

The Itza heritage lives on and visiting their nature reserve lets you see the awesome tropical flowers and lots of remarkable plants.

Heliconia spissa awaits you along the road to Bio Itza

Heliconia is a native relative of bananas (bananas and platanos were introduced by the Spaniards, but 90% of the species of Heliconia are native).

Some species of Heliconia have leaves used to thatch Mayan houses (in areas we have studied in Alta Verapaz mountains when palm thatch is not available). Heliconia leaves are also used to wrap tamales when other leaves (such as mashan) are not available. Cecropa peltata, guarumo, leaves are also used on occasion as wraps for tamales.

Wild native bamboo is also along the road to reach Bio Itza

90% of the bamboo in Guatemala and Mexico is introduced from lower Central America, from South America, or from Taiwan or China. But the Classic Maya did have bamboo available. You can see this bamboo along the road before you enter the reserve of Bio Itza. Botanical name is Guadua longifolia; local name is jimba. An area with thousands of these plants is called a jimbal.

We have photographed millions of the same species along Rio Holmul, near Nakum and north of the ruins of Naranjo. Also have found some areas along rivers feeding into El Golfete, Municipio de Livingston, Izabal, Guatemala. And along Arroyo Petexbatun, upstream from Sayaxche, Peten.

To learn about the Classic Maya use of bamboo, read “Bamboo—A Neglected Maya Material” by Stephen Houston (Brown University), Karl Taube (UC-Riverside), Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach (UT-Austin), and Timothy Beach (UT-Austin).

Wild native plants have edible seeds, fruits, stems

We found about eight wild native plants that have edible parts in our first two hours hike into Bio Itza. Obviously thousands of years ago maize and dozens of other agricultural plants were raised. But the surrounding wetlands and hillside rain forests have hundreds of wild plants that are edible.

We are preparing a full report on our initial exploratory visit to Bio Itza; this will list the edible plants. Lots more to be found in future field trips.

Guides are hospitable and helpful

You definitely should have a guide with you as you hike through Bio Itza. You can either bring your own guide from Flores or nearby, or make a reservation for a local guide in advance at Bio Itza. The local park rangers obviously know all the trails.

Campground is available at Bio Itza

If you want to camp here for more than a 1 day visit, camp space is available. But be sure to reserve in advance.

Lots more waiting for you to find and experience at Bio Itza

We will be returning as soon as the dry season facilitates access to Bio Itza. This time we will hike all the trails. We will camp here for several days so we can learn more about the photogenic flora and fauna throughout Bio Itza.


First post 28 July, 2021


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