Dominant Plants

Dominant Plants

After millennia of Maya occupying the Maya forest, there are 20 trees that economic botanists recognize as dominating the well-drained uplands. These plants often cover more than three-quarters of the area! These dominant plants occurred where the ancient Maya lived and are all useful because the Maya selected plants they needed while creating the Maya forest garden.

Pollination and Uses

We find that almost every plant has uses as we walk with the Maya forest gardeners at El Pilar. Crush buttonwood leaves as a bug repellant. Use ixkanan to heal bruises. Chechem (Black poisonwood tree) burns can only be relieved with boiled chaca bark. We can see that the uses of the 20 dominant plants include examples of the multitude of uses households encounter: food, oil, medicine, construction, products, poison, latex, and instruments! This is what makes the forest a garden.

As much as 90% of the plants in the world are pollinated by animals like birds, bees, and bats. In the tropics, pollination favors these animals as only 2% of the plants rely on wind pollination. Only one dominant plant is pollinated by the wind!

Butterflies, moths and other insects also are pollinators.

Flowers are a key to propagation. Their size, shape, color, and design are key to their pollination scheme. Red attracts birds, yellow attracts insects like bees, and white without a scent attracts night animals like moths and bats. Shapes can make access to pollen exclusive as seen with only specific hummingbirds can reach the bract of a type of plant such as the heliconia.

Maya Name
English Name

Pollination Method
Primary Use

These dominant plants vary in appearance and anatomy, so we display the flower portion and pollination method for easy side-by-side comparison.

Trees

A forest is made up of many types of plants. Since trees are prevalent and tall, they take up the most space and are the majority of the dominant plants. Treetops reach the highest levels of the forest and represent the rich canopy of branches and leaves. Some trees grow up to 60 meters, 4 times bigger than a telephone pole.

Illustrations by Julia Beery

Kibche
Milady

Pollinated by Insects
Used for Construction

Ts’om
Wild Mamey

Pollinated by Moths
Used for Food

Chaca
Tourist Tree

Pollinated by Bees
Used for Medicine

Box Ya
Black Zapote

Pollinated by Insects
Used for Latex

Jabin
Wormwood

Pollinated by Bees
Used for Fish Poison

Jobo
Hogplum

Pollinated by Insects
Used for Food

Ya
Sapodilla

Pollination by Bats
Used for Food

Wayum
Kinep

Pollination by Bees
Used for Food

Hokab
Mayflower

Pollinated by Bees
Used for Construction

Manchich
Cabbage Bark

Pollinated by Insects
Used for Construction

Yaxox
Ramon

Pollination by Wind
Used for Food

Chacalte
Chacalte

Pollination by Insects
Used for Construction

Yaxnik
Fiddlewood

Pollinated by Bats
Used for Construction

Chaltekok
Redwood

Pollinated by Moths
Used for Instruments

Succotz
Monkey Apple

Pollination by Moths
Used for Food

Caniste
Yellow Zapote

Pollination by Insects
Used for Food

Palms

Palms are among the most common plants in any tropical forest, making up 50% of some forests. Yet only a few take up a lot of space. Only the large palms are dominant plants.

Tutz
Cohune

Pollination by Insects
Used for Oil

Xa’an
Bay Leaf

Pollination by Insects
Used for Production

Kum
Give-and-take

Pollination by Beetles
Used for Production

Shrubs

Drunken Bayman

Shrubs are short in stature and generally occupy the lower tiers of the forest.  They are smaller and do not dominate the forest.

Tamay
Drunken Baymen

Pollination by Bees
Used for Medicine

Learn More

Explore the full variety the Maya Forest has to offer in our plant database.

You can also learn in-depth about the dominant plants by selecting Dominant Plants under the Special filter.