Biodiversity in Belize
Biological Diversity in Belize
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Checklist of the vascular plants of Belize

Find out more about Zamia and other Cycads in the Cycad Pages.

2008 Cycad research in Belize with Montgomery Botanical

Ceratozamia robusta research report (pdf)

Z.prasina research report (pdf)

New description of Zamia meermanii (pdf)

New description of Zamia decumbens (pdf)

What is Zamia prasina (pdf)

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Zamias native to Belize

Zamia page provided by: Jan Meerman

The Zamiaceae are a family within the Cycadophyta (cycads). These are a small group of plants with many unique features, an ancient origin and a very long history. Cycads are known to have lived in the Permian era, over 200 million years ago - even before the dinosaurs roamed the earth. Although once abundant across the globe, the cycads are now greatly reduced in both numbers and distribution. There are now about 250 species in 11 genera, compared to possibly 300,000 species of flowering plants, the group that now dominates the world vegetation. All cycads are tropical or subtropical and each genus has a restricted geographical range. Belize has a limited number of species but some are possibly still waiting detection.

Zamia fruiting cone. Click for larger image

A fruiting cone of a Zamia

Eumaeus toxea larvae. Click for larger image

Zamia's have very tough, leathery and toxic leaves. I know of only one butterfly genus that specializes on New World Cycads. This is the Lycaenid genus Eumaeus, of which two species occur in Belize. The caterpillars of Eumaeus live in small groups and are brightly colored (left) displaying their toxic properties. The rare Eumaeus childrenae I have only recently been able to confirm for Belize. The specimen seen was attempting to lay eggs on a large specimen of Ceratozamia robusta, which i have meanwhile been able to confirm is its only larval foodplant in Belize.


Picture gallery of Zamia species found in Belize:

(click image for larger size)

Zamia polymorpha

Zamia prasina Bull

The most common Zamia of Belize. Restricted to The Yucatan (Mexico), Peten (Guatemala) and most of Belize. There has been considerate confusion about the taxonomy of this species and previously it has been referred to as Z. loddigesi, Z. tuerckheimii, Z. furfuracea and most recently: Z.polymorpha Stevenson, Moretti & Gaudio. See recent paper by Calonje & Meerman (2009) on the taxonomic history.

Most common in open, relatively dry habitats such as savanna but also found in several forest types. Large underground tuber-like root. The leaves are very variable but are rarely larger than 60 cm (2 ft). Very often, each plant is bearing only one leaf.

There are several forms of Z. prasina, which may or may not be independent species. This "form" is found along the Macal River in the Mountain Pine Ridge area. It differs from the regular form by having more and narrower leaflets. There is usually a cluster of at least three leaves and the tuber-like root is not entirely subterranean and forms a short stem. As such these plants more resemble the Mexican Z. loddigesi. The cones however, are indistinguishable from regular Z. prasina.

Larval foodplant for the butterfly Eumaeus toxea.

See 2008 research page


Zamia polymorpha?
Zamia variegata. Click for larger image

Zamia variegata Warsz.

Often listed as Z. picta Dyer. Very similar to Z. prasina but with conspicuously spotted leaves (resembling a virus infection). Also much larger (see machete for size in the specimen to the left. I have seen leaves that were more than 3 m large. Found only in Southern Guatemala and the wetter parts of southern Belize. Larval foodplant for the butterfly Eumaeus toxea.

Zamia variegata. Click for larger image

Zamia decumbens Calonje, Meerman, Griffith and Hoese.

Relatively unknown species. Found only in remote areas of the Maya Mountains and Chiquibul. Distinguished from Z. prasina by the larger number of leaves per plant and the leaflets having a distinct longitudinal crease. Some plants are fairly small, resembling a multi-leafed Z. prasina (Picture to the right), others, and then specifically in certain Sinkholes in the Toledo District are much larger, stemmed and resemble a small Ceratozamia.

Larval foodplant for the butterfly Eumaeus toxea

Zamia prasina. Click for larger image
Zamia prasina, Click for larger image

Another picture of Z. decumbens. This is the large morph (mature?), about 1.50 m high with many leaves.

Most likely the larger plants are simply less disturbed individuals which can thus grow larger and form more leaves.

See 2008 research page

Download Z.decumbens sp. nov. description (pdf)

Zamia meermanii Calonje

This species was recently discovered on inaccessible limestone cliffs in the Belize and Cayo districts (Meerman & Meadows, 1999). Similar to the Mexican Z. furfuracea, The species has very large (1.5 m) "fuzzy" leaves. Always found on limestone cliffs. Described as a new species in 2009

Zamia sp. nov. Click for larger image
Zamia sp. nov. Click for larger image

The leaves can get very large and have a "drooping" appearance.

The male cones (left) are up to 17.5 cm (7") long and very slender.

As other Zamia species this is a larval foodplant for the butterfly Eumaeus toxea

Ceratozamia robusta Miq.

This is a large species. Individual leaves can reach a length of 3 meters (10'). It can be relatively common in the Maya Mountains, but distribution appears patchy. It is usually found on hill sides, but I have also found specimens in rolling hills. This plant appears to be the larval foodplant for the rare butterfly Eumaeus childrenae

See 2008 research page

See Z. robusta research report

Ceratozamia robusta. Click for larger image


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Last modified: July 25, 2009