Reports by FLAAR Mesoamerica
on Flora & Fauna of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo
Peten, Guatemala, Central America

This flower, also named sacuanjoche, is the national flower of Nicaragua. The plumeria flower (of many diverse species) is the “national tourist flower of Hawaii” since it is the flower used in a lei.

Zac nicte is white nicte and Chac nicte is red nicte (David Bolles Maya Yucateco dictionary). Plumeria alba and Plumeria rubra. This tree has a multitude of colors for its flowers.

The Maya word is spelled variously, nikte, nicte (usually with accents, which we don’t use since they don’t always print on some laser printer driver software).

Cacaloxochitl seems to be one designation in Nahuatl ( dictionary).

What we (Nicholas Hellmuth and biologist Eduardo Sacayon) are working on, is to create a reference archive of photographs of the actual flowers so that epigraphers and iconographers can more readily identify the stylized flowers that appear in Mayan art.

This is a kind of research project well suited to FLAAR since we have several decades experience with photography out on location and are leaders in digital photography as well (see our

Since funding is scarce, our project moves ahead slowly. The interest in nikte flowers are because in Lacandon myths, recorded by earlier visitors, the Lacandon Maya of Chiapas specifically mention that certain of their gods were born of the nikte flower.

Habitat of Plumeria alba and Plumeria rubra in Guatemala

The highest concentration of Flor de Mayo in Guatemala is in the arid area to the north of the Rio Motagua. You can see hundreds of this plant in the eroded gullies on the highway leading to Coban, Alta Verapaz, just north of the turnoff from the Carretera al Atlantico.

I have transplanted about seven into my ethnobotanical garden in Guatemala City. But there the altitud is about 1500 meters and much more humid than their natural habitat. It takes them several years to adapt and in three years not one has bloomed.

Flor de Mayo
Plumeria, FLor de Mayo, photo by Mirtha Cano, FLAAR botanist 2007-2008.

Plumeria, FLor de May
Plumeria, Flor de Mayo, photo by Mirtha Cano

Bibliography on plumeria / nikte / nicte

There are enough web sites on plumeria to keep you on the Internet an entire weekend. is one of thousands.

Plenty of books are available too; we cite just two that were readily available in Hawaii.

  • EGGENBERGER, Richard and Mary Helen EGGENGBERGER. 2000 The Handbook on Plumeria Culture. 4 th Edition. Tropical Plant Specialists, Cleveland , Georgia.
  • LITTLE, Jim. 2006 Growing Plumerias in Hawai’i . Mutual Publishing.

Other sacred, revered, or culturally important flowers.

Additional flowers of interest are the water lily: on which my PhD dissertation was based, published by ADEVA, Graz , and still available from FLAAR, Cost, new, is $300 plus $10 packing & shipping within USA. This is the original German edition with English intro and English captions. But what counts are the 727 illustrations; you don’t need to read Deutsch to appreciate the iconographic treasures available in this book.

Other flowers considered sacred by the Maya include.

  • Cacao was probably the most special plant to some Mesoamerican people other than maize.
  • Additional flowers are also evident in vase paintings, murals, and stelae. We have a long list of flowers that we are studying.

Other flowers used by the Maya include.

FLAAR is also studying all the original pre-Columbian seasoning for cacao, as listed in Maya and Aztec sources, as published by Sophie and Michael Coe. Many of these spices are from flowers.

Cacao Flower maya sacred plant Maya Archaeology
Cacao Flower, Maya sacred plant. Photo by Eduardo Sacayón, FLAAR.


Updated May 25, 2010.
First posted Dec. 4, 2006
. Updated August 24, 2009.

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