Flora and Fauna of Mesoamerica Representative Species

David Holt

The flora and fauna of Mesoamerica It is represented by plant species such as the dahlia, the izote, the virgin's orchid, the sacuanjoche, the white nun and the purple gualia. And by animals such as turkeys, tepezcuintles, xoloitzcuintles, jaguars and snakes.

In Mesoamerica there is a multiplicity of climates, forests, plains, valleys and jungles that have given life to the formation of various species of plants and animals.

Mesoamerican fauna

Mesoamerica or “Middle America” comprises the southern half of Mexico and countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Article index

  • 1 Flowers of Mesoamerica
    • 1.1 Plant families
    • 1.2 Particular species
  • 2 Fauna of Mesoamerica
  • 3 References

Mesoamerican flowers

The flora that can be found in Mesoamerica presents a very important richness and variety. The relevance of this area in terms of its flora was evidenced when in 1980 the need arose to carry out a project to identify it in detail.

This project was signed by the Institute of Biology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Natural History Museum in London, then called the British Museum.

The purpose of this study was to carry out an inventory of the plants that make up the Mesoamerican flora, focusing specifically on vascular plants (the most abundant on the planet). This study was intended to cover the 8 countries that are part of Mesoamerica.

There are approximately 265,000 species of vascular plants in the world, and estimates estimate that the plants that make up the Mesoamerican flora will be around 19,000.

The project was expected to last twelve years and produce seven volumes, but its complexity meant that the first volume was only released in 1994..

Plant families

Some of the most representative plant families described so far are the following:


These are plants that are usually easily identified as a result of their large flowers. They have spiral-shaped leaves that are distributed throughout the stem. Within this family are lilies and tulips.


In this family is the agave americana, which is widely cultivated in Mexico and from whose leaves the base element for the preparation of pulque is obtained, a drink with a high degree of alcohol and a whitish color.

This plant is usually found especially in coastal areas, always in quite arid and warm environments.


Bromeliads are characterized by being typical shrubs of the American temperate zones. Its flowers are quite showy and full of color. The most popular bromeliad is pineapple, also known as pineapple, which occurs in warm areas.


The main characteristic of these plants is that they are almost always climbers. They have small flowers and their leaves are arranged in a spiral shape..

Sarsaparilla is the most emblematic of the shrubs that make up the genus of the smilacáceae, which is often used as a flavoring.

Particular species

Some of the most common species are:


They come in different colors and shapes. The Aztecs called them "xicamiti" and they were cultivated by all the pre-Hispanic cultures that inhabited Mexico..

With it they adorned temples and it was also used for cosmetic and medicinal use.


The izote reproduces in the months of April and May throughout the Mesoamerican region and especially in El Salvador..

Its uses were multiple, from being an element of ornament, to a medicinal and edible product.

Virgin orchid

Its scientific name is Rhyncholaelia digbyana and it is a white orchid native to Honduras, which later spread throughout Mesoamerica.

It is recognized because the base of its lip has multiple white fringes, resembling a crown.


Also known as plumeria, it was used by the pre-Hispanic people as an offering in rituals due to its intense fragrance..

They also considered it good luck and used to bathe babies using its petals. Its color is white with an intense yellow center.

White nun

It is white and measures 16 centimeters. It was widely used as an offering because it lasts for several days without withering.

The name by which it is currently known was awarded by the Spanish conquerors.

Guaria Morada

Its scientific name is Cattleya skinneri and belongs to the orchid family. It blooms between February and March throughout Mesoamerica and especially in Costa Rica..

Fauna of Mesoamerica

Mesoamerican fauna

Within the fauna of Mesoamerica it is possible to locate animals that, in the times of pre-Hispanic civilizations, were considered part of the worldview of the peoples of this region.

Many of these animals continue to inhabit the Mesoamerican region. We will describe the most representative ones below:

Scarlet macaw

For the members of the Mesoamerican civilization, the scarlet macaw represented the Sun and was one of the first animals that they came to domesticate, since they needed specimens for their rituals..

Currently the scarlet macaw can be found especially in Mexico and Honduras, in areas with humid climates such as tropical forests.


Hummingbirds are one of the birds that can be found in greater numbers in Mexico, since in this country there are approximately 60 species.

For Mesoamericans, hummingbirds represented those warriors who had died sacrificed or in the middle of some battle.


According to Mesoamerican civilization, rabbits were representations of fertility. In addition, there are Mexican legends that tell how a rabbit came to live on the moon.

There are several species of rabbits, but the type that is most abundant in the Mesoamerican area is the so-called Castilian rabbit, which extends from North America to the northern part of South America. Its tail is short, its ears are long and it feeds on various plants and shrubs..


This is one of the most emblematic representatives of the fauna of Mesoamerica. It is the largest feline in the American continent, and the third in the world.

The jaguar was directly linked to the Mesoamerican worldview. Specifically, this feline was linked to the power exercised by the rulers of the populations.

Proof of this are the large number of representations of jaguars that can be found in art exhibitions and other pre-Hispanic manifestations..

Thanks to its bone structure, this feline can climb, swim and crawl quite cautiously. It is currently in danger of extinction due to the loss of its habitat.


Its name comes from the Nahuatl language and means big monster. 

This turkey began to be domesticated more than a thousand years ago in Mexico. They are 1.10 centimeters long and their plumage is black, brown and white..


Also called paca or mountain dog, it lives in the forests that occupy Mesoamerica.

It measures approximately 70 centimeters and feeds on seeds, tubers and vegetables.


It is called the Aztec dog and is endemic to Mexico. Its origin dates back to about three thousand years ago. It is linked to Aztec mythology, as it was believed that it accompanied souls to the underworld.

Mesoamerican cultures such as the Tlaxcalans, Mayans, Zapotecs and the Mexica also considered them sacred.


Olmecs, Teotihuacanos, Mixtecos, Maya among many others worshiped snakes. It is one of the most important cult animals in Mesoamerica.

They can be referred to with the Feathered Serpent, with the deity Quetzalcóatl, with Kukulkán or Gucumatz.


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  2. Dafelt, A; Morales, R. (1997). Wild areas of Mesoamerica. Turrialba: CATIE. Retrieved on October 29, 2017 from: books.google.es
  3. Gotz, C; Emery, K. (2013). The archeology of mesoamerican animals. Atlanta: Lockwood Press. Retrieved on October 29, 2017 from: researchgate.net
  4. Domesticated plant of Mesoamerica. Retrieved on October 29, 2017 from: en.wikipedia.org
  5. Zulueta, R; Lara, L; Trejo, D. (2011). Use of plants and animals in Mesoamerica. Veracruz: Veracruzana University. Retrieved on October 29, 2017 from: uv.mex

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