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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Video of exploding toxic seed pod of Hura polyandra, Jocotan and Zacapa, Guatemala, Central America

Videos of exploding seed pods of Hura polyandra of Guatemala

Our search for the Hura polyandra tree was because images of a Hura species on Google showed impressive conical spines on the trunk. Conical spines are used by the ancient Maya to decorate their incense burners and some cache vessels. It is recognized that the inspiration for these conical spines in Maya art were the spines of the sacred Ceiba pentandra tree.

Hura polyandra
Hura polyandra Seed Pod

But it turns out there are many other trees in Guatemala with spines (more than just Ceiba). These other species are worth studying since there are also “crocodile trees” pictured in proto-Maya Izapa stelae and in Early Classic Maya art. Crocodiles and caimans have spine-like protrusions along the top of their bodies. So it helps to study all trees of Mesoamerica which have conical spines or other rough surfaces on their trunks.

It took several years to find the elusive Hura polyandra trees and very quickly we noticed that the polyandra species had only very few spines; it was mainly Hura crepitans which had the frankly amazing conical spines everywhere on its trunk. But Hura crepitans is not known for Guatemala; it is further south.

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In the  meantime, even without conical spines, both Hura species have almost identical seed pods. These pods explode with a loud noise and throw their seeds many meters.

No one believes that any seed pod can explode with this violence, so we have begun to experiment. Our goal is to study the internal structure of the pod and hope that a student will do a thesis on the internal structure and how the pod explodes in milli-seconds.

We are experimenting with various manners to record this. Clearly our video equipment is rudimentary. Hopefully donations to our institute, FLAAR, will allow us to buy video equipment with stop-motion capability. The explosion of the pod is so fast that a normal digital SLR camera can’t stop the motion.

Here are first experimental videos. We hope you enjoy learning about the wonders of nature.


To select a video, just click on it's preview image, then just hit play.

First set of Videos

  • iPhone 5S
  • Canon 6D
  • Nikon D800

Second set of Videos

  • iPhone 5S
  • Canon 6D
  • Nikon D800

Third set of Videos

  • iPhone 5S
  • Canon 6D
  • Nikon D800

Fourth set of Videos

  • iPhone 5S
  • Canon 6D
  • Nikon D800

The pod  must be dry to explode. We have found that shaking the pod vigorously may help trigger an explosion. Of course on the tree the wind would shake the pod, but there is no blunt force onto a pod up in a tree. Since we need to record the pod exploding, we can’t simply set a pod up with a video camera and wait….it could take weeks for the pod to explode.  Actually three pods have exploded on their own, in the office, simply sitting on the floor (one we shook about 15 minutes before it exploded).

Hura polyandra
Different stages of the Hura polyandra Seed Pod

But to have our video team recording the moment of explosion, it is not realistic to set up cameras, so we shake the pod and then hit it with a machete or a stick.

Warning: we do not recommend you try this yourself. The sap of the seed pod is toxic beyond belief. The explosion is violent (and loud). The sharp edges of the seed chambers could easily puncture your eyeball or otherwise wound and scar your body.

We are inherently curious, however, and wanted to experience the explosion in-person.

Pods harvested in early April; video in mid-April; video posted April 29, 2014.


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