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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Plants in the ancient Mayan World

Plants were much more than just food for the ancient Mayan people. Many plants were used to make soap; others to weave baskets. Plants were used to color the bodies, both of men and women, and of course lots of plants produced dye to use as colorant for the clothing of native Mayan cotton and bark paper.

We at FLAAR have been studying the plants of the ancient Mayan cultures for many decades. Now that digital photography equipment makes high-resolution photography more realistic, our focus is on testing, evaluating, and reviewing digital photography cameras, lens, and lighting to assist botanists, archaeologists, and interested lay people to achieve better photographs.

Many professional photographers understandably do not divulge what equipment gives them an edge. But since we rarely sell our photographs, and since the goal of a research and educational institute is to provide information, we prefer to let people know what allows us to do our kind of atypical photography. Atypical because most photography in peer-reviewed journals is, politely put, mostly snapshots with basic equipment.

After many years of doing photography at Yaxha with basic equipment (because we had no funds for better equipment) we learned that this is not the way to achieve good photos. For example, one carved stone stelae we photographed at Yaxha in the 1970's was subsequently destroyed when a local government archaeologist put it in the back of his pickup truck and drove 300 km to the capital. The fragile 2000 year old stone monument was bounced to pieces on the rough unpaved roads.

Many years later archaeologist Miguel Orrego found this stelae in the basement of the Museo Nacional. But the point of this is that I wish I had done better photography in the 1970's, with better equipment, since today there is not enough remaining of this stela to do modern photography.

So today, in 2015, we are working to raise funds to acquire better equipment to photograph flowers of utilitarian plants of the Maya. We have borrowed money to buy a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lens, specifically to photograph flowers which are too high in trees to be photographable with a 200mm lens.

So the last week of May 2015 we drove the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lens in a 4WD pickup truck to the remote mountain area of Finca La Perla, and with the help of local people hiked up the steep mountains to photograph flowers of Magnolia quetzal.

Finca La Perla Guatemala Nikon Nikkor 400mm lens-0083
There are at least two species of magnolia native to Guatemala. Of these, one grows at high altitudes, up in the mountains, overlooking Finca La Perla, Departamento El Quiché, (north of Chajul, north of Nebaj).


Rainforest Plants of the Maya Forest

There are dozens, scores, of different eco-systems in Guatemala, from sea level of both the Caribbean on one side and Pacific Ocean on the other side. Then you get the mountain chains, and in between a rain shadow, which creates a cactus and thorn-plant filled desert-like eco-system along the Motagua River.

Up in the mountains you have everything from dry areas to seasonal rain forests, and cloud forests. With so many eco-systems you can find hundreds of rainforest plants of the Maya forests.

It took about 10 people to carry everything up the mountain. Not even 4WD could get to anywhere near the trees (since at these altitudes there are no roads).
It took about 10 people to carry everything up the mountain. Not even 4WD could get to anywhere near the trees (since at these altitudes there are no roads).

Aromatherapy: Mayan Plants for Perfume

We ourselves do not sell Mayan plants. But we hope to assist local Maya people get better markets for unique plant products as soon as grants are available. Aromatherapy is one area where Magnolia is prominent. Magnolia is widely sold as a perfume, but not in Guatemala. Magnolia is also a flavoring for beverages. So there is a lot of potential here.

Medicinal Plants of the Mayan people

Magnolia trees have additional chemicals which are useful for native medicine as well as for modern medicine. We will be seeking funds for further studies to assist local Mayan people.

So doing high-resolution photography is a good first step

In the long run we will need

  • 200mm prime lens
  • 300mm prime lens
  • 400mm prime lens
  • 500mm prime lens

because we prefer to avoid the issues of 1.4x and 2x tele-extenders (though we will be reviewing these also). We also prefer to not use zoom lenses. The old Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM zoom lens was clunky and close to unusable. It should be a public embarrassment for a company claiming to make professional equipment to have such an inadequate lens for sale for years. So in general we prefer to avoid using zoom lenses.

If you Google for digital camera lens reviews, over 90% ask for money for their reviews. They seem to praise every item of equipment (and ask you to buy it so they get a sales commission).

Sorry, we do not get a sales commission, so we can report a really awful lens (the old Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM is one example). We hope the new model is better.

Magnolia flowers tend to be high up in really tall trees. There are hundreds of other species of tall trees in Mesoamerica, so it is essential for botanists and Mayanists to have telephoto lenses. We at FLAAR will be testing various models; these samples of the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lens are our first results.

Guatemala-Cacao-flavor-Nicholas-Hellmuth-Nikon-D800-Nikkor-Lens-400mm-IMG 0002
Nicholas Hellmuth using the Nikkor Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR prime telephoto lens.

Ancient Maya Botanical Research:
We will be posting a Bibliography on Magnolia

Our web site for plant bibliographies, www.maya-art-books.org, will have a bibliography on Magnolia and Taluma species as soon as possible.

You can also check our review on the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lens here.

Posted June 10, 2015


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