These are the plants of Belize, for information specific to Ambergris Caye, click here.
Belize has an interesting and diverse vegetation profile. With
over 4,000 flowering plants, some 250 species of orchids, and 700
or so different trees, Belize is an exciting country for anyone
interested in the Plant Kingdom.
What follows this Introduction is just a mere sampling of our local vegetation. Some of the species described are those which we are familiar with, but may not see too often. Some are plants that we frequently see: Driving on the way to Belmopan from Belize City; walking through The Belize Zoo; plants that we see in rural villages and coastal areas.
With this Handbook, it will be possible to learn interesting facts about the vegetation found in Belize, from A to Z. This knowledge will add spirit to any information shared with others about the vegetation found in our country.
For instance, it will be degrees more fun to, not just point out an Allspice tree, but with the help of the information found here, be able to tell people that the ancient Maya once embalmed people with Allspice; (those who were held in esteem).
Our Belizean vegetation is an exciting aspect of this country's natural history. Have fun learning more about the plants found throughout Belize. And definitely, others will enjoy hearing about our plants. The plants listed on the following pages, most certainly, help to make Belize the special place that it is.
ALLAMANDA, Allamanda cathartica, APOCYNACEAE
- There are two forms of this plant. A large, climbing woody vine or a shrub.
- It is often cultivated as an ornamental because of it's beauty. Showy, bright yellow flowers and shiny, green leaves.
- The milky latex (sap) it produces may cause illness and rash in sensitive people. Large doses may cause vomiting.
- Small doses, which may be ingested from chewing on a flower or licking the stem, should not cause illness.
- The sap also protects this plant from harmful insects except the "frangipani caterpillar", which can cope with the toxins in the leaves.
ALLSPICE, Pimenta dioica, MYRTACEAE
- This widely-traded species is found throughout Central America and the Caribbean islands.
- The dried fruit of this medium-sized tree makes up this world renown spice. Jamaica is the world's largest exporter of Allspice.
- The dried fruit is ground, and used as a flavoring and curing agent in processed meats and bakery products, as well as a culinary condiment.
- Oil, distilled from the fruit and leaves, is used (along with the ground fruit), in meat and fruit-based products, as well as colognes.
- The ancient Maya used Allspice to embalm those who were held in high esteem.
- It also has been used as traditional medicine. Drinking a tea of the boiled leaves can help an upset stomach, and reduce fever by causing perspiration.
ANNATO, Bixa orellana, BIXACEAE
- This pink flowering shrub is planted for the red/orange dye that comes from it's dried seeds.
- The seeds are used in cooking to color food such as rice, margarine, soup, and were used by the Caribs and Central American Indians for body paint and insect repellent.
- Ants that feed off the nectar at the flower base and on the main stem help to protect the plant from harmful creatures.
- Traditionally, water in which young leaves have been crushed and then strained, was taken for diarrhea and dysentery.
- Used in industrialized nations as a food coloring replacement for red dye #2, which was determined to be a carcinogenic.
AUSTRALIAN PINE, Casurina sp. CASUARINACEAE
- This is not a true pine tree, the "needles" are really miniature, jointed branches. The leaves are tiny, pointed teeth upon each joint.
- They are native to the country from which their name is derived.
- These-fast-growing trees are often planted as ornamentals.
- There are two species which are very different in appearance, the C. glauca species is dark green and dense with masses of long needles, while C. equisetifolia is a more open tree with hairlike needles.
- It appears that there are no female trees for the C. glauca species in Belize, as no seed pods are being produced, thus people dig up the suckers to plant these trees.
- C. equisetifolia has both male and female flowers on the same tree.
- The Australian Pine lacks normal transpiring foliage; therefore it retains moisture ("sap").
BABOON CAP, Couepia dodecandra, ROSACEAE
- This medium-size tree is found occasionally in forests from south Mexico to E1 Salvador.
- It is planted in gardens as far south as Costa Rica because of the sweet, yellow fruit it bears (Apr-May), and is a favorite of children.
- The fruit contains just one seed. It is large and hairy.
BAMBOO, Guadua sp., POACEAE
- This pioneer species, a member of the grass family, helps fill gaps that may occur in a forest due to fallen trees.
- It is a rapid-growing plant, which needs plenty of sunlight and can often be found growing thickly along riverbanks. One needs a machete to get through it, especially old growth bamboo, which has spines - OUCH!
- Animals such as paca, peccary and armadillo hide in these thickets for protection from hunters.
- Bamboo is able to withstand the floods of the wet season, and actually helps to support the riverbank (good erosion control).
BANANA, Musa acuminata, MUSACEAE
- These cultivated trees are often planted on leaf-cutter ant (Atta sp.) nests to provide good aeration and drainage in the rainy season.
- It's healthy fruits are low in fats, cholesterol and sodium, but high in potassium and energy.
- Since it is easy to digest, it is the only raw fruit allowed for people with peptic ulcers, and is often a first fruit for babies.
- Eating only well-ripened bananas for 24 hours can help diarrhea.
- Young leaves can be used as a wrap and plaster for burns.
BARBA JOLOTE, Pitecolobium arboreum, LEGUMINOSAE
- The wood of this tree resembles that of the Mahogany, however, it is heavier and probably superior in strength.
- For this reason, as well as its high resistance to fungal and insect attack, it is suitable for cabinets, interior trim, dugout canoes, and posts.
- Locally, it has been used for tanning.
- The red pods it bears resemble a turkey's wattle.
BASKET TIE-TIE, Desmoncus schippii, PALMAE
- This is no ordinary palm, it has actually taken the form of a vine which can be found winding its way above the forest trees.
- It is one of the largest vines in the tropics. It can reach over 1,000 ft.
- Sharp spines not only cover the entire vine, but the leaf tips, too!
- The reverse hook spines can be quite aggravating when walking in the forest, as they hook onto you, actually this is the way they are carried throughout the forest by catching a ride on people and/or animals.
- The vine (once stripped), can be split into strips for basket weaving. That's why its name is "Basket tie-tie".
BAY CEDAR, Guazuma u1mifolia, STERCULIACEAE
- This tree, which is often found in secondary growth forests, bears small fragrant flowers that are greenish yellow.
- Its fruit is a food source for many forest creatures, as well as for grazing animals.
- Its bark has been traditionally used as medicine. One cup of water in which the bark has been boiled, should be taken three times a day for diarrhea and dysentery; a wash for skin sores and rashes can be made by boiling and cooling the bark in a large quantity of water.
BILLY WEBB, Acosmium panamensis, FABACEAE
- The hard, durable wood of this tree is used in heavy construction, and to make such household items as washing tubs, breadboards and mortar sticks.
- The bitter-tasting bark is used as a remedy for coughs and fever.
- It is the main ingredient in "Sweet Blood", one of the Rainforest Remedies bottled by Ix Chel farms, which is good for diabetes, dry cough and low appetite.
BLACKBERRY, Eugenia sp., MYRTACEAE
- The fruit of this shrub is used primarily in making local wine, but it makes tasty pies, too.
- The berries are very juicy, so a small amount goes a long way when making wine.
- It grows very abundantly, once one bush is planted, there are many!
BLACK MANGROVE, Avicennia nitida, VERBENACEAE
- One of three species of mangrove found in Belize. It grows along the coast of the mainland and cayes in subtidal or intertidal soils.
- It has breathing roots (pneumataphores), which grow beneath the wet groundwater to get oxygen.
- It can live in a salty environment, because its sap has a high tolerance for salt, and it actively secretes salt through leaf glands, as well as its roots.
BREADFRUIT, Artocarpus communis, MORACEAE
- This plant was brought from Tahiti to the Caribbean by Captain Bligh in 1793, and was thought to be directly responsible for the mutiny on the "Bounty" in 1789. The trees required a lot of care, work and water, which left the crew tired and short on water.
- It was brought to the Caribbean as a cheap food source for slaves who, ironically, didn't like it.
- These trees can grow up to 60 ft. and produce rough-skinned fruit in the dry season.
- The fruit can be boiled (ugh), fried or baked (tasty).
- It is propagated by root cuttings, since it doesn't produce seeds.
BREADNUT, (RAMON), Brosimum alicastrum, MORACEAE
- Many animals depend on this tree. Birds eat the fruits, as do monkeys. Horses and livestock eat the leaves.
- They often grow near the Sapodilla, and thus were depended upon by the chicleros, for feeding their "chicle pack train" mules.
- In addition, people eat the small orange fruits and roast the seeds.
- These trees were commonly planted by the ancient Maya near their homes.
BRI BRI, Inga edulis, MIMOSACEAE
- This medium-sized tree with a spreading crown, is a riverine species. It is found along rivers and waterways.
- It is considered semi-deciduous, because it only sheds some leaves during the dry season.
- It is pollinated by bats, which lick up the nectar that collects at the base of the flower.
- The stamens of the flower are edible, as well as the pulp surrounding the seeds.
BULLHOOF, Drypetes brownil, EUPHORBIACEAE
- This canopy species can grow up to 120 ft.
- It grows on limestone soil and is common in the northwest.
- Its timber is used in the construction of local houses. Round poles are used for beams, squared ones are used for rafters.
CABBAGE BARK, Andira inermis, LEGUMINOSAE
- This hardwood species bark is similar to that of the Cabbage palm, hence the name, "Cabbage Bark".
- One unique feature of this tree is that its bright purple flowers only bloom once every two years.
- Locally, the wood is used for logging truck parts, skids, bridges, and house frames.
CACAO, Theobroma cacao, STERCULIACEAE
- This tree thrives in the shade and is found throughout Central and South America, and the Caribbean.
- The Indian cultures of Mexico cultivated these trees for over 2000 years.
- The Mayas used the beans for money, and the Aztecs would buy beans from them.
- Christopher Columbus took cacao beans back to Spain in the 1500's.
- Today, it is still cultivated by the Maya, who make a sweet cocoa drink. They extract the beans from the fruit, dry them in the sun for up to 15 days, roast them, and peel off the outer skin. Underneath is the seed.
CALABASH, Cresedentia cujete, BIGNONIACEAE
- This tree, common to the savanna, has a high resistance to fire, it is one of the few trees still standing after a bush fire.
- It bears large gourd-like fruit (May-Aug). Notice its stemless leaves, so designed for the heavy fruit.
- It has night blooming flowers, which attract bats that pollinate them.
- The dried fruit shell (once the pulp is removed), can be used as a bowl, cup or container, which was valued by the ancient Maya, who transported liquid by making a small hole in the dried fruit.
- As a medicine, the stringy pulp and/or leaves can be boiled with sugar and taken for asthma, bronchitis, coughs, and lung congestion.
CARIBBEAN PINE, Pinus caribaea, PINACEAE
- It is an indicator species of the savanna and pine ridge areas.
- The adult trees are fire resistant, and this species actually benefits from controlled burning. Its competitors are removed.
- Since the early 1900's, it has been of economic value, as it was harvested for construction purposes.
- The white resin beneath the bark has been used as a glue, water and insect repellent, and to repair dugout canoes (which the Maya did).
- The resin also helps protect the tree from insect attack, by quickly sealing any cuts made in the bark.
- Chicleros relied upon this highly flammable firewood, while out in the bush, especially when it was raining.
- 300,000 cu.ft. are sustainably harvested annually in the Mt. Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, for local use only.
CASHEW, Anacardium occidentale, ANACARDIACEAE
- This tree bears the world-renowned cashew nut, which comes into season here between April and May.
- First, the fruits are harvested, they can be eaten as is, made into jams, or fermented into wine.
- To extract the nut, which hangs from the bottom of the fruit, it takes a lot of time and energy. They must be detached, then dried in the sun and roasted in a fiery hot oven.
- The outer layer of the seed contains oils that cause severe blistering, dangerous to try and get at the nut without roasting it first! The oils have been used to protect articles from insect attack, and as a waterproofing agent.
CEDAR, Cedrela mexicana, MELIACEAE
- It has been an important timber source since ancient times (used for dugout canoes), as its wood is durable and resistant to insect attack.
- It was exported as far back as the early 1800's, mostly for boatbuilding and cigar boxes.
- These trees, which have fragrant scented wood, are widely distributed throughout Belize.
- Traditionally, a bark tea was taken for bruises, internal injuries and abdominal pain.
- It is still used today for cigar boxes, as well as decorative boxes and plaques.
CENTURY PLANT, Agave sp., AMARYLLIDACEAE
- This succulent herb, with swordlike leaves, produces a giant stalk (up to 30 ft) after 10-20 years.
- The yellow flowers grow atop this stalk, and once they have bloomed and faded, the entire plant dies, but small offshoots drop to the ground and start new plants.
- It is often planted as an ornamental in private and public gardens.
- Its sap contains irritants which can cause burning, rash and dermatitis.
- Although hummingbirds and insects visit during the day, the Century Plant is designed for bats. The flowers open at night and release an acid to attract bats, and its pollen contains twice as much protein as insect pollinated plants.
COCKSPUR, Acacia cornigera, LEGUMINOSAE
- Sometimes called the Bullhorn acacia, it has a symbiotic relationship with a species of ant (genus Pseudomyrmex) that lives in its thorns.
- The ants protect the tree from plants, which may grow near its trunk or leaves high in the canopy, and they emerge from the thorns to attack other insects, humans and animals that come in contact with the tree.
- It has been used as traditional medicine for relief of mucous congestion for infants. Babies are given water containing the ants (once they've been squeezed and strained).
- Snake doctors use the bark and root to slow down snake venom from entering the bloodstream; acne and other skin conditions can be bathed with water in which the thorns have been boiled.
COCONUT PALM, Cocos nucifera, PALMAE
- This palm is easily identifiable by the fruit it bears, which is a healthy food source.
- The young coconut flesh is easy to digest, and is a good food for babies and anyone suffering from indigestion, ulcers, diarrhea or hepatitis.
- The flesh can also be used as a face cleanser.
- The water of the coconut is a good source of potassium and other essential minerals, which should be consumed by those with heart, liver, and kidney ailments.
Click here for more on coconuts....
COHUNE PALM, Orbigyna cohune, PALMAE
- This palm is abundant and notable throughout Belize.
- Like the Bayleaf palm, the Cohune has been spared when land is cleared, because of its many uses.
- As a food source, the hearts of palm, which tastes like cabbage, can be eaten and so can the nuts.
- The tedious task of processing the cohune nut oil is not commonly practiced today, as it once was.
- Charcoal was also made from the nuts, especially by the British during World War I.
- The fronds were used for thatched roofs in houses, and may still be used for kitchen and shed roofs.
- Its durable and fire resistant wood is hard to cut down, so are the leaves, which are a good source of shade.
Colpothrinax cookii, PALMAE
- This slender palm does not have a common name.
- It grows on high ridges, and is found on Victoria Peak and Doyle's Delight (two of the highest points in Belize).
- It was once found in Alta Vera Paz, Guatemala, but habitat destruction has caused it to disappear.
- As you drive along the Hummingbird Highway, you can see this palm by looking up at the ridge tops of Mt. Margaret, near Five Blues Lake National Park.
COPAL, Protium copal, BURSERACEAE
- This was a sacred tree of the ancient Maya who used the resin as a ceremonial incense, as well as to ward off evil spirits and the evil eye (it is believed that people can harm others by their envious glances).
- The chicleros depended on the resin to treat cavities. They would stuff it into the cavity and several days later, the tooth broke and was removed. They were their own dentist!
- As a traditional medicine, a powder made from the bark is applied to wounds, sores and infections.
- The bark is also used in a tea (taken before each meal), to treat intestinal parasites.
COPNA, Erythrina fusca, FABACEAE
- It is found throughout the Community Baboon Sanctuary and the lower Belize valley.
- It flowers in the dry season (March/Apr), and is easily noticed because of its large orange and pink flowers.
- Despite the spines on the trunk and branches, the flowers are sought after by the howler monkeys.
- The howlers compete with other animals and birds such as the oriole, which pluck off the flowers to get the nectar found at its base.
- The orchard oriole, an overwintering species, is a chief pollinator of the Copna.
COTTON TREE, Ceiba pentandra, BOMBACEAE
- The Maya regarded this tree as sacred. They viewed it growing through the center of the Universe. Its roots in the underworld, its trunk in the Upperworld and its branches in Heaven, where the main God sat.
- The seed pods contain kapok; a light resilient, water repellent fiber.
- Its buoyancy is about five times greater than a cork, and its lightness is eight times that of cotton.
- Kapok has been used to stuff mattresses, pillows, upholstery and life jackets. During World War 11, it was used for jackets and vests. Good protection in cold weather.
- Kapok is also one of the best sound absorbers, per unit of weight. It has been used in the insulation of airplanes, hospitals and studios.
CRABOO, Byrsonima crassifolia, MALPIGHIACEAE
- It is another indicator species of the savanna and pine ridge areas.
- It flowers in the late dry season, and bears fruit, yellow berries, that can be pickled or fermented to make wine.
- The tapir eats the bark.
- The bark is used for tanning, while the fruit rind is used to dye cotton for ink.
- The ripe fruits are an important food for birds, such as the yellow headed parrot, white-fronted parrot, and the tropical mockingbird.
CULANTRO, Eryngium foetidum, APIACEAE
- There are two varieties of this herb, one is commonly found in backyards, fields, and along roadsides. The other is cultivated.
- It is added to soups, stews, and salads for a fresh herb taste.
- For indigestion, diarrhea and vomiting, prepare a tea (steep leaves for 15 minutes), and drink a small cup throughout the day.
DOGWOOD, Piscidia piscipula, LEGUMINOSAE
- It is a true deciduous tree. Losing its leaves in the dry season, just as its pink flowers blossom.
- This is a food tree of the howler monkey.
- The bark and foliage have narcotic properties and have been used for poisoning fish.
- The ancient Maya may have used the bark for an intoxicating drink.
- Its durable wood has been used in construction.
DUMBCANE, Dieffenbachia seguina, ARACEAE
- This herb is often found in river valleys and on steep slopes.
- It differs from its relative the philodendron, as it is strictly a terrestrial plant.
- All parts of this plant contain an irritating juice, which is toxic to humans and animals.
- People have suffered inflammation of the hands, forearms, and lips when cutting this plant.
- Some investigators claim that it contains an active enzyme that can cause suffocation through swelling of the throat and larynx.
DWARF MISTLETOE, Arceuthobium globusum, LORANTHACEAE
- This vine grows on pine trees in Belize.
- Although its small red flowers add a decorative affect to the pine trees, it is a menace to them.
- It weakens young trees, which causes them to be more susceptible to other dangers, such as disease and pests.
FIG TREE, Ficus sp., MORACEAE
- Several species are found in Belize, growing wild or cultivated.
- The fig tree seen along rivers is the AMATE (which means BIG), and its trunk can be a meter in diameter or more.
- The Amate is a food tree for many birds, animals and primates. It fruits three or four times each year.
- The white sap of the Amate has been used traditionally to help skin fungus, boils, and ringworm. It has been used to extract teeth, too. The latex is applied to cotton and stuffed in the tooth. About one hour later, the tooth will break.
- Fig trees and wasps have developed a strong interdependent relationship, one of the most unique systems of pollination in the Plant Kingdom.
- Each species of fig tree is pollinated by a particular species of wasp. The tree donates 50% of its fruit for nurseries for the wasp larvae.
- Inside the unripe fig fruit, there are three flowers. One is the gall flower where the eggs hatch. Here is where the female emerges, once she is impregnated, and collects pollen from the male flower, which she then carries to another fig tree of the same species. As she lays her eggs, she pollinates the female flower of that ripening fig.
FLAMBOYANT, Delonix regia, LEGUMINOSAE
- It originated from Madagascar, but due to deforestation there, is almost extinct in the wild.
- Its broad crown makes it a good shade tree and easy to identify, especially in May-June, when the brilliant crimson flowers are in bloom. There is also a yellow variety.
- The Flamboyant is often planted as an ornamental because of its beauty.
- Its large brown seed pods, up to two feet long, and its leaf structure, one leaf contains about 500 leaflets, also make it an impressive tree.
- Hummingbirds are attracted to the flowers and act as pollinators.
FRANGIPANI, Plumeria sp., APOCYNACEAE
- There are many species and varieties of Frangipani, the more common ones being white, yellow, and shades or red.
- This small tree, up to 15 ft. tall, sheds its leaves during the dry season, but tends to flower continuously.
- Its sweet fragrance, especially in the evenings, has made it a popular garden tree.
- The white sap in its branches and leaves is poisonous, but protects the tree from harmful insects.
- There is one species of caterpillar which is able to withstand the toxins, and actually becomes toxic itself, which protects it from predators.
- Once the caterpillar has devoured lots of leaves, it changes into a pupae, and eventually becomes a silver-gray hawk moth.
- There are various species found in Belize: Bitter ginger, Ginger root, Red ginger, and Spiral ginger.
- Ginger plants are distinguished by their leaves, which are long and elliptical, pinnately veined, with barely a leaf stalk, giving them a feather-like appearance.
- These plants are parallel to the orchids - they have highly evolved and specialized flowers.
- The bright recognizable flowers of the Red ginger are actually the bracts (modified leaves), which attract insects and conceal the real, small white flowers.
- The Red ginger's root looks and smells like the herb "ginger".
- The spiral ginger (Costus), grows up to nine ft, in a curved fashion, and that's how it got its name
- Like the Red ginger, its red "flowers" are the bracts. Inside the bracts are the white flowers.
GIVE AND TAKE, Chrysophila argentea, PALMAE
- This palm can be both harmful and helpful. The needle-like spines can give a painful cut. But the pink, sticky inner part of the leaf can help ease the pain, bleeding and infection.
- It was known as one of the "soldier's herbs", which the British and Belizean soldiers learned to identify during their jungle warfare training.
- Brooms are made from the fronds, and once the tree trunk is stripped, it can make a good wall for huts.
- The leaves contain "heart of palm", not too tasty, but can be eaten.
GUANACASTE (Tubroos) , Enterolobium cyclocarpum, LEGUMINOSAE
- One of the giants in Belize, this fast growing tree can grow over 130 ft.
- Its timber is light and durable, making it desirable for dugout canoes. They can last over ten years.
- It has unusual-looking seed pods. They curl around in almost a complete circle and look like an ear. One of the local names for this tree is "Monkey's ear".
- Seeds are dispersed by monkeys, agoutis, and other forest animals that eat the fallen pods, flowers and leaves.
- The seeds are also being used in a cottage industry by local villagers, who make jewelry from them.
GUAVA, Psidium guajava, MYRTACEAE
- This tree is cultivated in Central America for its pear-shaped fruit.
- The edible pulp has numerous small seeds. Guava is high in vitamin A and C, more so than citrus fruits.
- The fruit can be eaten raw, used in jams, juices and a popular dessert is made by preparing a thick jelly paste, which is cut into squares before serving.
- All parts of this tree have been used for a variety of ailments in traditional medicine. Gargling with a leaf infusion helps mouth sores and bleeding gums.
GUMBOLIMBO, Bursera simaruba, BURSERACEAE
- Gumbolimbo is often found growing near the poisonwood tree, and its bark is a cure for the affects of poisonwood sap.
- If unlucky enough to contact the poisonwood sap, peel off a piece of gumbolimbo bark and apply it to the affected area. Then bathe the area three times a day with water in which the bark has been boiled.
- For internal infections, skin sores, colds and fevers, prepare a tea of boiled bark.
- Its sap protects it from harmful insects, and has been used for cement, glue, and as a varnish to repel insects.
HOG PLUM, Spondias sp., ANACARDIACEAE
- This small tree produces yellowish plum-like fruit, though not too tasty to humans, it is enjoyed by animals, such as the howler monkey.
- Hog Plum is planted for live fence posts.
- The leaves, bark and flowers have been used in traditional medicines.
- Make a wash of boiled bark and leaves to relieve sores, rashes and painful insect bites.
HORSEBALLS, Stemmadenia donnell-smithii, APOCYNACEAE
- A medium-size tree which is found throughout Central America, from southern Mexico to as far south as Panama.
- Its tubular yellow flowers produce a pair of large, oval fruit, which have a woody husk covering.
- If damaged, all parts of the tree will produce a sticky latex. This could be a way that the fruit protects its seeds, so that they will ripen, be eaten, and then dispersed.
- Birds are the main seed dispersers. They feed on the fruit when it ripens and naturally opens.
- But! The birds must be long-billed or small enough to be able to feed on the inside, or large enough to perch on the fruit and feed from the outside.
HOT LIPS, Cephalis sp., RUBIACEAE
- It is found in broken ridge, pine ridge, and mountain pine ridge. It is easy to find at The Belize Zoo.
- This herb produces bright red flowers during the rainy season, which are actually the "sepals" of the plant, and out of its yellow center grow tiny yellow flowers.
- When you see this flower, you will know right away why it is called "Hot Lips".
- This plant produces a small, blue berry-like fruit.
- JACARANDA, Jacaranda sp., BIGNONIACEAE
- This tropical tree, which comes from Brazil, grows up to 30 or 40 ft.
- It has fern-like leaves similar to those of the Flamboyant.
- When in bloom, the large clusters of lavender' blue flowers make it one of the most beautiful trees around.
- It is a popular ornamental tree to have in gardens.
JACKASS BITTERS, Neurolaena lobata, ASTERACEAE
- This herb bears yellow flowers and has bitter-tasting leaves.
- It is a well-respected plant that has been used widely in traditional medicine. The tea can help get rid of intestinal parasites; or be used to bathe wounds or infections. Some people use it as a hair wash to get rid of lice.
- Boiled and strained leaves can be used as an insecticide for house and garden plants.
- To cleanse the blood, a tea of boiled roots is drunk.
JIPPI JOPPA, Sabal mexicana, PALMAE
- This palm is only found in the Toledo District. It is easily seen at Lubantuum ruins.
- The Maya Indian women spend many hours carefully weaving baskets by hand from the leaves, which they gather in the rainforest.
- To make the baskets, first they boil the leaves until just the strawy spine is left. These spines are then washed, then put to dry and bleach in the sun.
- The baskets can be found in gift shops and in Maya villages of Toledo.
- The shoots of Jippi Joppa are a delicacy to eat.
LIVE OAK, Quercus oleoides, FAGACEAE
- This is one of several species of oak found in Belize, and is common to the savanna.
- Since it is slow-burning, it is popular for firewood.
- Its wood has been made into charcoal.
LOBSTERCLAWS, Heliconia rostrata, MUSCACEAE
- Several heliconias are found in Belize. Note the paddle-shaped leaves - similar to those of the Banana. They belong to the same plant family.
- The heavy, bright red with yellow "flowers" are actually the bracts (modified leaves), of the plant. Inside are found the small purple flowers.
- The bracts attract birds, especially hummingbirds. They act as both pollinators and seed dispersers.
- A yellow mite lives in the flowers and uses the hummingbird as transportation to get from flower to flower.
- Spiders find the "flowers" a convenient place to await prey.
LOGWOOD, Haematoxylon campechianum, LEGUMINOSAE
- The first of the three economic giants in Belize was the Logwood tree. The other two: Mahogany and Sapodilla.
- As early as the mid 1500's, it was being logged by the Spanish.
- Then the British buccaneers learned of its value (after raiding Spanish ships), set up logging camps, and exported the logs to England.
- By mashing and boiling the heartwood, dye, from yellow to black, can be produced.
- The dye was popular in the European clothing industry, and was also used for inks.
- By the 1700's, as synthetic dyes were developed, the Logwood became less important and prices dropped. It was then that the Mahogany tree took its place.
- However, today, with the rising interest in natural dyes, the Logwood may re-enter the economic market.
MADRE DE CACAO, G1iricidia sepium, FABACEAE
- It was planted to shade the cacao trees on plantations, thus the name "Madre" or "mother".
- The Cacao trees thrived, not only from the provided shade, but because this tree contained a nitrogen-fixing bacteria in its roots, which replenished the soils.
- It has also been planted as live fence posts, but only the male species.
- The flowers are enjoyed by chachalacas, and are eaten by people as a vegetable. They are often cooked with eggs.
- One traditional use has been to boil the bark, and then use this water to soothe tired, irritated eyes.
- The mashed leaves have been used as a poultice for wounds, boils and diaper rash.
MAHOGANY, Swietenia macrophylla, MELIACEAE
- This is the National tree of Belize.
- It was an economic giant in Belize for over 200 years.
- At first, during the Logwood boom, it was only used for repairing ships, as its wood is strong and durable, yet workable.
- Then it was recognized for its color and lustre, and was sought after by furniture makers, especially in the European market.
- The ancient Maya used Mahogany, too. Not for its timber, but as a shade tree for their crops - mainly, corn.
- There is an irritating oil in its twigs and leaves. When in bloom, individuals who are highly sensitive, may feel nauseous, experience headaches, and a burning rash; particularly on the face.
- Scratches from branches may blister and become inflamed.
- The oil from this tree has been used as a parasiticide for certain skin conditions, and as a stimulant when taken internally.
MAIDENHAIR FERN, Adiantum tenerum, POLYPODIACEAE
- This lovely, delicate fern has pinnate leaves, containing numerous fan-shaped leaflets.
- It is believed that the ancient Maya used it to decorate ceremonial altars.
- A tea of its stems and leaves has been used traditionally for coughs, lung and throat congestion, and to help detoxify alcoholics.
- To get rid of dandruff, apply softened leaves to the scalp.
MAMMEE APPLE, Calocarpum mammosum, SAPOTACEAE
- This urge canopy species can reach 120 ft. or more.
- It is important for its sweet fruit, favored in Central America, and it has not been used much as a timber tree. But its wood is very workable and has a high resistance to insect and fungal attack.
- Aside from humans, primates and rodents enjoy the fruit. They help disperse the seeds.
- This tree contains a milky latex, which the chicleros used to mix with the latex of the Sapodilla to make chicle gum.
MANGO, Mangifera indica, ANACARDIACEAE
- This fruit has been described as one of the most delicious in the world. It is highly prized throughout the tropics, especially in India, where it has been cultivated for over 4000 years.
- The trees thrive in areas that have a long dry season. Their pollinators are insects and insects prefer dry weather.
- The dense foliage of the Mango make it a good shade tree.
- Aside from eating this fruit, various products are made from both the ripe and unripe fruit: Jams, preserves and juices.
- The sap and skin of the unripe fruit contains irritants that can cause rashes, blisters, and dermatitis in people who are sensitive to it.
- Boats and dugouts are constructed from its timber.
MAPOLA, Luebea seemanii, TILIACEAE
- This tree grows up to 100 ft, and is commonly found in riverine forests.
- Although it is a large tree, it has very lightweight wood that is good for making boxes.
- Small, cream-colored, fragrant flowers bloom early in the dry season, and like many other deciduous trees, it loses its leaves during this time.
- It is a food plant for the howler monkey.
MAYFLOWER, Tabebuia pentaphylla, BIGNONIACEAE
- It is found from Central America to northern South America and in the West Indies.
- This canopy species grows up to 90 ft, and has a strong, durable wood much like English oak.
- The wood has been valued for interior work and furniture throughout its range.
- It was also used for cattle and oxen yokes..
- The Mayflower is another tree that is easy to distinguish when in blossom. At that time, March-May,, it is leafless, and just a mass of pink flowers, which can vary from pale to deep pink.
MELALEUCA, Melaleuca sp., MYRTACEAE
- This tree is called Cajeput or Paperbark tree in other countries, but has no common name in Belize.
- Growing up to 100 ft, it is from southeast Asia and Australia. Its pollen has been found to cause respiratory problems.
- The acorns it bears are a food source for many animals. Squirrels, agoutis and peccary are fond of acorns.
- Once roasted, the seeds can be eaten by humans.
MEXICAN FLAMEBUSH, Calliandra tweedii, LEGUMINOSAE
- This large bush is commonly found in the savanna. It is abundant around The Belize Zoo.
- Brown seed pods form, during the dry season, and at times, one can hear a popping noise when these pods explode and disperse the seeds.
- During the afternoons, the flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds. At night, they are pollinated by bats.
NARGUSTA, Terminalia amazonia, COMBRETACEAE
- It is commonly found in broadleaf forests throughout Central America, and has been exploited by commercial logging.
- Nargusta may be medium or large, depending upon its habitat.
- The bark constantly peels off, like the Gumbolimbo, and is thought to be a strategy to prevent damage from heavy epiphytes affixing themselves to it.
- The wood is hard and durable. Once finished, it has an attractive appearance. It has been exported for veneers and furniture.
- Locally, the timber of Nargusta has been used for bridges, railway ties and paneling.
NEGRITO, Simaruba glauca, SIMARUBACEAE
- A medium-size tree with many long, crooked branches, it has white flowers that grow in panicles. Negrito is common in broadleaf forests.
- It bears a black fruit in the dry season, March and April, that looks and tastes like an olive. The seed within contains an oil that can be used in cooking.
- The bitterness of its bark protects it from insect attack.
- The bark, as well as the roots, contain a powerful astringent, used in traditional medicine for diarrhea, dysentery and internal bleeding.
- The wood has been used for house frames, broomsticks, matchsticks and boxes.
OLEANDER, Nerium oleander, APOCYNACEAE
- This is a very popular flowering shrub in the sub-tropics and tropics. It commonly has flowers in the pink to purple range, but can also be found in white and yellow.
- Oleander was known to the ancient Romans. It is commonly cultivated in parks and gardens, despite the fact that all parts of it are deadly toxic.
- It contains two toxins that cause vomiting, dizziness, stomach cramps, convulsions, and may cause death.
- Chewing on any part of this plant can lead to a very bad day.
- Even the smoke from burning Oleander is highly toxic.
- There are over 20,000 varieties of orchids throughout the world, their flowers are highly-prized in many countries.
- Over 200 species are found in Belize.
- Their highly-specialized flowers bloom just once a year. Some may last only several minutes, while others last for several months.
- Over half the species of orchids are epiphytes.
- Some have a unique method of pollination. The lip of the flower, the most obvious part, mimics the female insect of a particular species, attracting the male of that species, which is then directed to the anther where the pollen is. Once pollinated, a toxic substance is produced, and the flower dies, yet a seed pod forms after many months, and the seeds are dispersed by wind and water.
PALMETTO, Pimenta Palm, Acoelorrhaphe wrightii, PALMAE
- The Palmetto is an indicator species of the pine ridge and savanna. It can survive in dry, nutrient-poor conditions.
- During a fire, it can be both helpful and harmful. It catches fire quickly and explodes, shooting flames into the air and spreading the fire, yet on the other hand, its fronds can be used to put out fires.
- Its wood has a good resistance to rotting,and has been used as fence posts.
PAPAYA, Carica papaya, CARICACEAE
- This small, quick-growing tree is cultivated for its sweet, juicy fruit which is higher in Vitamin C than most other fruits. As it ripens, the Vitamin C content increases.
- It rarely branches. The crown is a mass of large, lobed leaves.
- The leaves and fruit contain the enzyme papain, which is extracted and used commercially to tenderize meat, as well as in chewing gum, cosmetics, the tanning industry, and to clarify beer.
- In traditional medicine, crushed fruit and seeds are applied to wounds and infections. Eating the ripe fruit is good for constipation, indigestion, and high blood pressure.
PAPERFLOWER, Bougainvillea sp., NYCTAGINACEAE
- This is a tough, colorful vine from Brazil, and is often seen climbing up trees, houses or fences.
- It was introduced by French explorer "deBougainville", hence, its name.
- It is described as tough because it can withstand drought, poor soil and heavy pruning. It is sometimes trimmed to be a hedge.
- This continuously flowering plant comes in a variety of colors from white and apricot to dark pink and purple. But these colorful parts are not flower petals. They are the bracts, which are long lasting modified leaves, concealing the small flowers.
PERIWINKLE, Cathatanthus roseus, APOCYNACEAE
- This flower, which originated from Madagascar, can be found in the wild, bordering beaches, or in barren areas. Periwinkle likes sandy soils.
- It continuously flowers - pink, purple or white.
- As traditional medicine, the flowers have been used in a drink to help relieve sore throats and coughs. A tea of the leafy stems is taken for diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Periwinkle contains two alkaloids which are used to treat a rare form of childhood Leukemia.
- Incredible! It takes 1,1000 lbs of whole plants to make one gram of the important Leukemia treatment.
PHILODENDRON, Philodendron sp., ARACEAE
- There are several species of Philodendron found in Belize.
- Philodendron means "tree loving", and it is easy to see why this plant is called this, as it is often found climbing its way up the trunk of trees.
- Most are aroids. Aroids start as a seed in the ground. A runner goes to a nearby tree and climbs up. A vine may eventually go back down to the ground and anchor it.
- While they are often cultivated as house plants, watch out! If stems and leaves are playfully chewed on by children, the irritants within the plant cells can cause burning, swelling and blistering.
- The roots of Philodendron have long been used as cords for tying beams, for basketry and in emergencies - temporary shoelaces.
PINK CASSIA, Cassia javanica, LEGUMINGSAE
- It originated in Java, but is found throughout the tropics.
- Pink Cassia is a small tree, growing up to 30 ft, with a widespread crown. It makes a good shade tree.
- The flowers, growing in clusters, vary in color from pale pink to a darker rose pink, giving it a variegated effect.
- The flowering occurs in the late dry season, April-May, followed by the appearance of long, brown fruit pods.
PISS A BED, Senna alata, CAESALPINIACEAE
- This is a flowering shrub, producing racemes of yellow flowers and can be found in yards and disturbed forests.
- Great name! Derived from its use as a traditional remedy to help urinary tract conditions. Throughout the day, one should sip on three cups of tea made from boiling and steeping the flowers.
- Drinking a leaf tea can help kidney ailments and liver congestion.
- Fresh juice from the leaves should be applied to skin diseases such as scabies and ringworm. In Guatemala, its common name is "Ringworm shrub".
POISONWOOD, Metopium browneii, ANACARDIACEAE
- This is the Black Poisonwood. There are also three species of White Poisonwood in Belize.
- The sap is extremely toxic, and can be seen oozing out of the bark of the tree when it is cut or damaged.
- While the sap is "poisonous", the leaves are harmful, too. If one is unfortunate enough to be sensitive to these toxins and too close a stand is taken to this chancey tree, then blisters, swelling and rash can develop.
- It bears red berries, which are a food source for many birds.
- Its timber makes beautiful furniture, as it has good lustre and durability, but one must know how to take off the.bark and drain the sap.
- The Gumbolimbo is an antidote for Poisonwood "wounds".
POKENOBOY, Bactris major, PALMAE
- This palm was once called "Pork and Dough boy" because tongs for cooking or removing coals were made from the fire-resistant wood of its trunk.
- Working with this tree required skill. The entire tree trunk, stem and leaves are covered with sharp spines.
- It is regarded as a pest, because it forms dense thickets that are impenetrable without a great deal of machete swinging.
- Underneath the hard shell of the palm is an edible pulp that tastes similar to black cherry when ripe.
PRICKLY YELLOW, Zanthoxylum sp., RUTACEAE
- There may be as many as eight species of Zanthoxylum in Belize. "ZANTHOXYLUM" means,"yellow wood" in Latin.
- They are all canopy species, growing up to 100 ft. and have yellow wood and roots. Large prickles cover the tree trunk.
- Like many deciduous trees, they lose their leaves during the dry season to conserve water, which is necessary for the flowers.
- They are food trees for primates and birds. Prickly Yellow has been used for cabinet making and general carpentry.
Note: There are other species of Prickly Yellow commonly called: Bastard Prickly Yellow, White Tamarind, and Wild Tamarind.
PROVISION TREE, Pachira aquatica, BOMBACEAE
- It produces large, colorful flowers and fruits. The fruits can weigh up to six lbs, and be a foot in diameter.
- The seeds are water dispersed. Once the fruit is ripe, the seeds drop in the water, germinate almost immediately, and float until they come aground and their roots take hold.
- The seeds can be roasted and eaten.
- Provision Tree bark has been highly regarded as a blood tonic. Traditionally, a tea of its bark is used to help anemia, low blood pressure, fatigue and generally to build strength.
QUAMWOOD, Schizolobium parahybum, LEGUMINOSAE
- This fast-growing tree can grow as tall as 130 ft.
- The name is derived from the local name of the Crested Guan (Quam), a large forest bird in the chicken family which feeds on the seed pods.
- In the dry season, bright yellow flowers bloom once the leaves have fallen.
- Its wood has been used for box and crate-making, as well as for paper pulp.
QUEEN OF FLOWERS, Lagerstremia speciosa, LYTHRACEAE
- This tree is native to India and is cultivated throughout the tropics for its brilliant flowers and quality wood.
- It grows best in warm, moist, swampy areas, not dense forest interiors, and can reach heights from 15-50 ft.
- The flowers, which grow in panicles about a foot and a half long, may be mauve or pink.
- A unique characteristic of the flowers is that they change color during the day, deepening as the day passes on.
- Its wood is highly-prized in eastern Asia. Used for boats, dugout canoes and wharfs, it is strong, tolerant of salt air and water and holds its shape well.
- Beautiful examples of Queen of Flowers: Bullfrog Inn. Central Farm. Market Square/Belmopan. Usually in full flower during the late dry season, April-May.
RED MANGROVE, Rhizophora mangle, RHIZOPHORACEAE
- This mangrove species is more salt-tolerant than other mangrove species.
- The arched prop roots growing from the stems, as well as the drop roots descending from the branches high above, support the tree.
- The roots not only provide support, but also assist in aeration.
- Many marine inhabitants, sponges, coral, algae and mangrove oysters, live on its roots.
- It deals with salt by excluding it from being taken up in its roots.
- The salt that is taken up, is stored in the leaves. When full of salt, the leaves are shed. An acre of Red Mangrove can produce a ton of leaves in about a month!
- Scientists have found that the discarded leaves are the basis of a complex food web. Microorganisms increase the amount of protein in the leaves, which make them a valuable food source for shrimp, crab and fish.
- Some cultures have used the leaves of the Red Mangrove to make a refreshing tea; they are full of tannins.
ROSEWOOD, Dalbergia stevensonii, LEGUMINOSAE
- Although it never attained the export capacity like Mahogany and Logwood, its timber is well-known in Belize.
- The wood is hard and heavy. The pink to purple heartwood is very durable.
- Since the 1800's, it was exported to supply the manufacturing of bars for marimbas and xylophones in the U.S.A.
- Locally, and in other parts of Central America, Rosewood is known as a cabinet wood, and it has been used for house posts.
ROYAL PALM, Roystonea oleracea, PALMAE
- This fast-growing tree is the tallest palm in Belize, growing up to 100 ft.
- The Royal Palm is usually planted as an ornamental.
- It often lines boulevards and walkways of large estates in the Caribbean Islands.
- The orange fruits are a food source for birds.
- Its leaves and trunk are used as construction materials.
SANDPAPER TREE, YaHa, Curatella americana, DILLENIACEAE
- The Sandpaper Tree is common to the savanna areas in Belize.
The leaves are rough like sandpaper, and have been used for this purpose.
- The seeds can be roasted and eaten, and have been used to flavor chocolate.
- Charcoal has been made from the wood of this tree.
SANTA MARIA, Calophyllum antillanum, GUTTIFERAE
- A hardwood tree, Santa Maria is common in mixed forests in Belize. It is also found in the West Indies, Mexico, and as far south as Brazil.
- Another one of Belize's canopy species, it can reach 130 ft. in the high forest. The leaves are distinct and attractive. The Latin name, "Calophyll" means "beautiful leaves".
- Its wood is often mistaken for Mahogany because of its color. But Santa Maria is stronger, heavier and more durable than Mahogany.
- It was used in shipbuilding, and there are records indicating it was used in the royal dockyards of British Honduras. However, due to its tendency to warp, it was not able to compete with other timbers.
- The timber has been used in the construction of logging trucks and bridges for Mahogany and Logwood operations, as well as for ship masts, furniture, and flooring.
SANTIAGO, Pothomorphe peltata, PIPERACEAE
- This is a large herb quick to recognize by its large, aromatic heart-shaped leaves.
- The leaves are used to relieve various body aches and pains.
- Traditionally, a herbal bath of leaves is taken for rheumatism and arthritis. For stomach aches, headaches, and muscle spasms, a leaf can be heated and applied to the troubled area.
- Found growing in disturbed areas. Tear off a bit of leaf and smell it - very nice, like sassafrass.
SAPODILLA, Manilkara zapota, SAPOTACEAE
- Has an important historical role in the economic development of Belize.
- This tree contains a milky latex from which "chicle" is derived; the gummy substance in chewing gum, i.e. "Chiclets".
- The chicle industry boomed during the 1920's and 30's. It was exported up until 1960, until synthetic gums stilled the market. Today, there is a growing interest in the natural materials, Japan importing tons of chicle a year from Central America.
- Usually, trees that were 30 years and older were tapped, making V-shaped cuts in the bark. Those scars are still visible today. Then the latex was collected. The tree then must be given time to recuperate before being cut again.
- The fruit of the Sapodilla was a staple for the Maya and Aztecs and is still a popular fruit today, both for people and for animals. (Tapir, paca, agouti, monkeys)
- Its timber has a high resistance to insect and fungal attack, and is very durable. This makes it desirable for general construction of buildings, bridges and fence posts.
SEA ALMOND, Terminalia catappa, COMBRETACEAE
- The Sea Almond tree is tolerant of sea spray and sand. It was introduced from India.
- It is found along the sea and is cultivated in public parks and private gardens.
- Easy to recognize by its horizontally growing layers of branches and large, dark green leaves. When the leaves mature, they turn bright red, then fall off.
- The fruits of this fast-growing tree may look like the familiar almond nut, but there is no relation.
- The fruits are edible, but lots of energy is required to extract them.
- The wood contains tannins which can be used in tanning leather.
SEA GRAPE, Coccoloba uvifera, POLYGONACEAE
- The Sea Grape is native to the Caribbean region. Some historians believe it was the first plant that Columbus saw when he arrived in the 15th century.
- It takes on two different forms, depending on the habitat. On open seashores, it is a sprawling shrub. In more protected, dense vegetation, it is a tree which grows up to 35 ft.
- The grape-like fruits which grow on the female plant are tart but edible. It is made into preserves, syrup and wine.
- Its strong, heavy wood has only been used as fuel.
SEA PURSLANE, Sesuvium portulacastrum, AIZOACEAE
- Sea Purslane is typically found along sea coasts, sometimes in muddy soils, mostly on sandy beaches.
- It is an herb very rich in Vitamin C. The stems and leaves are fleshy. They can be eaten raw, but are best cooked. When cooked, the plant cells burst, releasing the salt. They taste somewhat like asparagus.
- In east Asia, it has been cultivated as a vegetable, and can be found in the local markets.
SENSITIVPLANT, Mimosa pudica, MIMOSACEAE
- This small ground herb originated from South America. It is one of 400 Mimosa species.
- It closes up and droops down when touched, which indicates one of its properties - to induce sleep.
- Traditionally, leaves have been placed under one's pillow for treatment of insomnia. A tea made from its leaves and branches is used as a relaxant, pain reliever, and to induce sleep.
- The leaves can also be applied, once mashed, to aching teeth.
SCHIPPEA PALM, Silver Palmetto, Schippia concolor, PALMAE
- This is an indicator species of the savanna. It was named to honor William A. Schipp, whose botanical collections enhanced the knowledge of the flora of Belize.
- The branches are thornless and round - easy to tell the difference between this palm and the Palmetto, which has thorns.
- It has white, feathery flowers which bloom between June and August, and are insect pollinated. The fruits are small and green.
- Schippea Palm likes nutrient-poor soils; it is easy to see throughout The Belize Zoo.
SNAKEPLANT, Sansevieria trifasciata, AGAVACEAE
- The color pattern on this stemless plant resembles that of a snake.
- Its name also indicates one of its uses in traditional medicine: For snakebite! Chew on fresh leaves.
- Rashes and skin sores can be helped by bathing them with water in which the leaves have been boiled.
- Some people place leaf juice in water for chickens, which helps prevent diseases.
SOUR ORANGE, citrus qurantium, RUTACEAE
- Most parts of this plant are used in traditional medicines.
- A leaf tea can help flu, fever, vomiting and indigestion.
- Water, in which the rind has been steeped and strained, can be taken to help relieve cold symptoms.
- As a food source, the fruit is used in marmalades, liqueurs, and as a flavoring.
- Oil from the leaves, flowers and fruit is used in perfumes.
SOURSOP, Annona muricata, ANNONACEAE
- This is a tree closely related to the custard apple. Soursop bears a sweet, fleshy fruit containing numerous black seeds. The fruit is delicious, the seeds should not be eaten. They contain cyanide. (So do apple seeds)
- Fruit production is found to increase remarkably, if the blossoms are hand-pollinated.
- As a medicine, a tea from the leaves relieves rashes.
ST. JOHN'S WORT, Hypericum sp., HYPERICACEAE
- There are several species of this flowering shrub found throughout the world in warm temperate to tropical climates.
- Our Belizean St. John's Wort is common in the savanna areas. And easy to find at The Belize Zoo.
- It can grow on dry, disturbed soil, and benefits from fire ecology, growing quickly and robust after savanna fires.
- Scientific research has found that certain species of St. John's Wort were an effective antidepressant in the treatment of mild and moderate depression.
STINKING TOE, Cassia grandis, CAESALPINIACEAE
- Stinking Toe is a large tree, with a widespread crown, and is very common in Belize. It flowers during the dry season, April May.
- It has pink or white flowers which grow in racemes. The large podlike fruit get up to three ft. in length. The smell of these podlike fruits gives the Stinking Toe tree its name.
- The branches, fruit and leaves have been used in traditional medicine.
- The juice of its seed pods is used as a tonic drink for fatigue. This juice is also applied to the skin to get rid of ringworm and fungus.
- A leaf tea is used as a blood tonic, and is believed to be good for diabetes.
STRANGLER FIG, Ficus sp., MORACEAE
- There are several species of Strangler Fig found in Belize.
- Strangler Figs start off as epiphytes. The seeds are deposited by bats, birds, or monkeys in the canopy of a host tree.
- Long roots are sent down, some of which develop their own soil root system. Others wrap around the host's trunk.
- After several years, the roots that are wrapped around the trunk fuse, and begin to "strangle" the host tree. Other research indicates that the Strangler Fig out-competes its host tree for sunlight, which contributes to the exit of the host.
- Once the host tree dies, the Strangler Fig is left with a hollow trunk.
SUGAR CANE, Saccaharus officinarum, POACEAE
- This giant grass can grow up to 15 ft. and higher! It originated from east Asia.
- Sugar Cane has a solid, woody stalk which contains sweet sap. The sap is converted into sugar after it has been boiled. This was discovered in India around 900 years ago.
- The stem of this plant, which is full grown in one year, can be peeled and chewed for a sweet, juicy snack.
- Large Sugar Cane plantations can be found in the Orange walk district of Belize.
- Sugar, rum, and molasses are manufactured here in Belize.
TAMARIND, Tamarindus indica, LEGUMINOSAE
- It is believed that the Tamarind tree originated in tropical Africa, and probably came here from there or from India.
- It grows well in dry soil, can withstand hurricanes, and makes a good shade tree because of its broad crown with large leaves.
- The roots contain a poisonous chemical which kills nearby plants (competition), and there is a belief in Belize that sleeping under a Tamarind tree can cause poor health.
- A cooling drink is often made from the pulp and seeds of the fruit, which can also be preserved or used in stews.
- The fruit pulp contains calcium, phosphorous and iron. Some people use it for a laxative.
- Another use of this tree - a paste made from the astringent bark can be put on scorpion bites.
THUNBERGIA, Grandiflora alba, ACANTHACEAE
- Thunbergia is a tropical vine which originated from India. It has large leaves and showy flowers that are violet or white in color. It can be seen at the front of the Gerald Durrell Visitor's Centre, The Belize Zoo.
- It grows abundantly and is a good climber. People often cultivate it to cover walls, fences and entrance ways.
- Thunbergia is popular, too, because it flowers continuously.
TRAVELLER'S PALM, Ravenala madagascariensis, MUSACEAE
- This plant originates from Madagascar. Although it looks like a palm, and is called a palm, it is not a palm. Traveller's Palm is a member of the Banana family.
- The leaves grow on a vertical plane. When the leaves mature, they give the plant the appearance of a giant, flat fan.
- Its name is derived from the fact that it is an important resource to those out "travelling". Up to a liter of water can collect at the base of its hollow leaf stalks. Just pierce a hole into the base, water flows!
TRUMPET TREE, Cecropia peltata, CECROPIACEAE
- The local name, Trumpet Tree, comes from a tradition of the ancient Maya, who used the stems to make ceremonial trumpets.
- This tree has a symbiotic relationship with a species of ant, Azteca sp. which lives in the hollow chambers of the tree trunk.
- The ants are aggressive and will come out and bite anything that touches the tree - plant or animal.
- The Trumpet Tree grows very fast - over six ft. in one year!
- It is a gap species; one of the first trees to appear in disturbed forest.
- The leaves are favorites of the tapir, monkeys and deer. The fruits are enjoyed by toucans, tanagers, and other birds. The seeds of the Trumpet Tree are dispersed by birds and fruit bats. And the seeds are dispersed by the wind, as well.
- In Belize, the leaves of the Trumpet Tree have been used to make a tea for high blood pressure.
WARREE COHUNE, Astrocaryum mexicanum, PALMAE
- This is a small palm tree, growing no taller than 15 ft. It is found along the eastern coast of south Mexico to Honduras.
- Warree Cohune grows best in dense, wet lowland forests.
- This palm gets its name from the dangerous bark. The entire bark is covered in sharp spines which are said to resemble the bristles of the white-lipped peccary, "Warree".
- It hurts to lean against this tree. The spines will quickly break off and embed into the skin.
- The fruits of the Warree Cohune have spines, too.
WATER HYACINTH, Eichhornia crassipes, PONTEDERIACEAE
- This free-floating freshwater herb has spread throughout the world from its native area of South America.
- It was transported to other countries as an ornamental, but has become a troublesome weed that multiplies rapidly and forms "floating mats" in rivers, canals and reservoirs.
- Three Water Hyacinths can produce 30,000 plants in 50 days!
- The young leaves, leafstalks and flower clusters, after cooking, can be eaten.
WHITE MAYA TREE, Miconia argentea, MELASTOMACEAE
- This is a common tree of the savanna and pine ridge areas.
- A member of the Melastome family, the White Maya Tree, like other members of its clan, can be identified by the distinct pattern on its leaves.
- The leaves are five-veined with a white underside.
- Over 100 species are found in Belize.
- The berries, which ripen during the rainy season, attract many species of birds, and are an important food source for migratory birds from North America. After travelling over 900 miles, finding a Melastome bush full of ripe berries must be a happy moment for our overwintering species.
- These same berries can be eaten by people, too, or fermented to make wine.
WILD COTTON TREE, Cochlospermum u1tifolium, COCHLOSPERMACEAE
- A small tree, growing up to 20 ft, the Wild Cotton Tree is found throughout tropical America in disturbed and secondary growth areas.
- It has large, yellow flowers which resemble roses. The tree blooms late in the dry season.
- The stamens of the flowers have been used as a saffron substitute.
- It is called "Wild Cotton" because of the silky fibers of the seed pods, similar to the kapok of the Ceiba Tree.
- The bark contains a tough fiber and may be used to make rope.
WILD CUSTARD APPLE, Annona reticulata, ANNONACEAE
- The fruits of this tree are small and seedy but taste good.
- Most parts of the Wild Custard Apple have medicinal properties.
- Raw fruit pulp can be used as a dressing for boils. A leaf tea can be used to wash mouth sores. Add sugar to this tea, and a cough syrup appears!
WILD YAM, Dioscorea sp., DIOSCOREACEAE
- This is a vine with heart-shaped leaves which is happiest growing in limestone soils.
- The Wild Yam has been used in many traditional medicines.
- Women in Mexico, for ages, ate the tuber of the Wild Yam as a birth control method.
- Scientific research has found that the tuber of Dioscorea does contain steroids. These same steroids were then synthetically developed and are used in the manufacturing of birth control pills.
XATE, Chamaedorea sp., PALMAE
- There are two species in Belize - Chamaedorea elegans and C. oblongata.
- C. elegans is the most commonly cultivated palm in the world, as it makes the ideal "house palm. It can tolerate dry air and low heat, and has been known to endure an indoor environment for up to 40 years.
- It originated from Mexico and was taken to Europe as an ornamental in the early 1800's.
- The leaves are sustainably harvested in the Peten forests of Guatemala for the floral industry. Both in the United States and Europe, the leaves are used to complement flower arrangements.
YELLOW CASSIA, Cassia fistula, LEGUMINOSAE
- This is a very showy tree native to tropical Asia.
- Yellow Cassia has fragrant yellow flowers which hang in long, drooping racemes.
- From each flower extends a curved pistil, which develops into a brown fruit pod reaching up to two ft. in length.
YEMERI, Vochysia hondurensis, VOCHYSIACEAE
- This canopy species is the only one of its genus found outside of South America.
- Yemeri grows best on sandy, clay soils. It is easy to spot in the Mt. Pine Ridge Forest Reserve during the dry season, with its yellowish blooms.
- Its timber is used most often `or dugout canoes, but it also is a good wood for house siding and for boxes.
YUCCA. Yucca elephantipes, LILIACEAE
- This spineless Yucca can grow up to 30 ft.
- It has dagger-like leaves and large white flowers; a desirable ornamental plant.
- Throughout Central America, the young flowers are often eaten after they have been cooked.
ZAMIA, Cycad, Zamia sp., CYCADACEAE
- This plant has a wide range, extending from southern U.S.A. to tropical South America.
- One of the oldest plant species in the world, the Cycads evolved about the same time as ferns, long before dinosaurs!
- They resemble small palms and are often used as ornamental plants.
- Cycads are wind pollinated, but field research has shown that certain insects may play a role in pollination, too.
- These plants are well-protected. All parts are toxic - to animals and to humans'
- A small, two-frond Cycad found in the savanna areas of Belize, is eaten by a caterpillar, Eumaeus minyas, which limits the amount of toxins it ingests - here's how: While one of these caterpillars eats, another cuts off the leaf end so that not too much is eaten.
- These toxins protect the caterpillar and then are passed onto the emerging butterfly.
- Even though the roots are toxic, they are used as a source of starch after repeated washing and boiling.
ZERICOTE, Cordia dodecandra, BORAGINACEAE
- This is one of several species of Cordia found in Belize.
- It grows up to 90 ft, and produces small, orange-red flowers and small yellow fruit. The fruits are acidic but edible.
- The dark, strong heartwood, which may have black markings or ripples, is a valuable carving wood for our local woodcarving industry.
- It is also used in cabinet and furniture making.
- Another species of Cordia is found on the cayes. It is easy to recognize by its bright red blossoms.
- The Cordia attracts many different species of birds.
Gesneriaceae of Belize
There are a number of field guides that we are working now with Marie Selby Botanical Gardens team- this is all part of our Inventory of Epiphytes of Belize project. As you can imagine we came across very interesting plants that were lithophytes( growing on rocks) as well, so we including them in our materials.
Epiphytic and Lithophytic Fern and Lycophyte Genera of Belize
Here is also another field guide that we just published. The PDF files are easy to download and you can recognize a lot of plants that you see in Belize and it gives you various photos and descriptions to help with identification.
Common Palms of Belize
Spiny Bromeliaceae of Belize
Cayo District -- Las Cuevas Trees
Tillandsia (Bromeliaceae) of Belize
Palms - Chamaedorea of Belize
Smooth-leaved Bromeliaceae of Belize (excluding Tillandsia)
Visit the fieldmuseum website for more fieldguides.
Tropical fruits of Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador used by the Maya for thousands of years
Fruits and nuts have always been part of Mayan diet. Most Mayan house gardens have fruit and nut trees surrounding the homes. And in many Mayan milpas the fruit and nut trees are not cut down when the rest of the forest is slashed and burned. So fruits, nuts, and the soft flesh of seed pods such as Inga species have been a part of Mayan diet for millennium. Most studies of Maya diet and agriculture focuses on maize, beans, squash, and root crops. So our www.maya-ethnobotany.org will have plenty of discussion of those seeds and vegetables. But we do not want to forget fruits and nuts either. So on this page, rather than devoting an entire page exclusively to one single plant or flower, I will introduce several groups of related fruits.
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