Heliconia plants of Guatemala
& their use by Mayan people


You find heliconia plants in the gardens of many hotels, haciendas, and other locations throughout Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and into lower Mesoamerica. Even more heliconia plants are roadside weeds in Peten, Alta Verapaz, Izabal and many other areas of Guatemala. But we have been surprised to discover that the Mayan people, especially the Q’eqchi’ Mayan, use heliconia species for utilitarian purposes. To my knowledge heliconia is rarely mentioned as a utilitarian plant for pre-Columbian civilizations (other than the leaves for wrapping tamales). So now the FLAAR discoveries can add this plant to the list of useful plants of ancient civilizations.


We hope to find that someone else noticed this before we did. If you know of citations to use by Mayan or Xinca people of Guatemala (other than as ornament and more than just tamale wrap) please let us know.


Three Heliconia species growing happily at 1500 meters above sea level, Guatemala City, ethnobotanical research garden of FLAAR Mesoamerica.

Heliconia collinsiana grown at the ethnobotanical research garden of FLAAR Mesoamerica, Guatemala city
Heliconia collinsiana grown at the ethnobotanical research garden of FLAAR Mesoamerica, Guatemala city
Heliconia collinsiana grown at the ethnobotanical research garden of FLAAR Mesoamerica, Guatemala city

Heliconia collinsiana

Heliconia latispatha

Heliconia rostrata


We appreciate the cooperation of Marcel Roehrs, former owner of La Selva Maya, Guatemala, for providing several species of heliconia plants for our research garden in Guatemala City about seven years ago.


These are three of the ten species that we need for our research garden in Guatemala City. We found these in several places in Izabal in late March 2017.

Heliconia Aurantiaca, Finca Don Benjamin Cimarron, Izabal, Guatemala.
Heliconia Champneiana, Finca Don Benjamin Cimarron, Izabal, Guatemala.
Helinconia Rostrata, Orange GGyro Macho Creek, Izabal

Heliconia aurantiaca

Heliconia champneiana

Heliconia rostrata


Our long range goal is to have all Guatemalan species of heliconia in our garden so we can photograph the flowers in our studio (since photographing them outside is not as productive). Even though we are at 1500 meters altitude, all heliconia which has been introduced grows readily once it takes root. Of course not all roots survive; roof thatch platanillo near Cahabon did not survive.


We also have Canna species, such as Canna indica, Indian Shot, since these leaves are used to wrap tamales and other things in most of Guatemala. It looks like a small heliconia plant though in more humid warmer areas it can grow to almost 2 meters in height. In the botanical garden the Canna species looks very happy.




Introductory Bibliography on Heliconia Plants especially of Guatemala


You can find long bibliographies in most peer-reviewed journals or in monographs. But of course the monographs of the 1990’s lack all the material published subsequently. Our bibliography here is intended as a helpful start for students, botanists, and interested lay people to learn more about heliconia of Mesoamerica, especially of Guatemala.


  • 2009
  • Flores que atrapan tu Mirada. Estudio de vida de florero y comercial de flores ornamentales de la zona centro del estado de Veracruz. Colegio de Postgraduados, México. 80 Pages.
  • 1986
  • Flora de Chiapas. Listados Florísticos. México. Vol. 4. Pages.1-246.
  • BERRY, F. and KREES, W. J.
  • 2002
  • Heliconia, an identification guide. Smithsonian Institution Press. 334 Pages.


An essential monograph by capable botanists, but most of their research seems to have been in Costa Rica, Colombia and in countries other than Guatemala. We have made a list of all the species of heliconia which other botanists have listed for Guatemala but are either totally missing in the nice Berry and Kress monograph or if present, do not list Guatemala as where the species can be found. Now that the roads in Guatemala allow 4WD pickup trucks to reach remote areas, if you know local people (so you can get access to their fields and forests) you can find a lot more heliconia in Guatemala.


  • 2009
  • Catálogo taxonómico de especies de México Vol. 1. In Capital Nat. México. México City.
  • ESCRIU FONT, Carolina Elizabeth
  • 2011
  • Estudio de mercado para la comercialización de heliconias flores exóticas en floristerías, hoteles y puntos de venta de flores de las zonas 10 y 14 de la ciudad capital de Guatemala 41 Pages.
  • GRIGGS, Robert F.
  • 2009
  • On some species of Heliconia. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club. Vol. 30, No. 12 Pages 641-664.
  • 1996
  • Heliconiaceae de México, los platanillos. La Ciencia y el Hombre Vol.22 Pages119-148.
  • 2000
  • Heliconiaceae. Flora de Veracruz Vol. 118 Pages 1-30.
    Very helpful short monograph because many of the Heliconia of Veracruz are also found in Guatemala (but not all are in Standley and Steyermark).
  • JEREZ, E.
  • 2007
  • El cultivo de las Heliconias. Cultivos Tropicales. Vol. 28. No.1. Pages. 29-35.
  • KRESS, W. J.
  • 1984
  • Systematics of Central American Heliconia. Heliconiaceae. with pendent inflorescences. J. Arnold Arbor. View in Botanicus View in Biodiversity Heritage Library. Vol. 65 No. 4, pages 483-485.
  • 2013
  • Propagación de heliconias Centro de Investigación Regional Pacífico Sur Campo Experimental Rosario Izapa Tuxtla Chico, Chiapas. No. 30. 40 Pages.
  • OTZOY ROSALES, Mynor Raúl, ESPAÑA MIRANDA Erick Alexander, SOSOF VÁSQUEZ Jorge Rubén, David Estuardo, MORENO CAMEY
  • 2003
  • Búsqueda, recolección, preservación y establecimiento de un sistema productivo de cultivares de flores tropicales, de la familia heliconiaceae, en el sur occidente de Guatemala. USAC. Guatemala, 58 Pages.
  • STANDLEY, Paul C. and Julian A. STEYERMARK
  • 1952
  • Flora of Guatemala, Part II, Fieldiana Bot. Vol. 24, part 3: 178-191.
  • SOSOF V., Jorge R., ALVARADO G., David and Martin S. SANCHEZ C.
  • 2006
  • Estudio de la variabilidad de cultivares nativos de flores del género Heliconia (Heliconiaceae) provenientes de la región Suroccidental de Guatemala. USAC, Guatemala.
    Available on line as easy download:



Web sites with information on Heliconia



A bibliography of Insects and Other Animals Associated with Heliconia



Heliconia Society International



Professional list of Heliconia species and in which country they are found.

Posted March 30, 2017, after finding lots of unexpected species of Heliconia in several locations in the Departamento of Izabal, Guatemala