Belize has one of the world's richest habitats for flora and fauna. No fewer than 4,000 different species of native flowering plants are found within its borders, along with about 700 species of trees and several hundred species of other plants. Scientists are only now beginning to carry out an exhaustive inventory of Belize's plants. The task is daunting: over 70 percent of the country is under some kind of forest cover, and almost half of Belize's primary forest is still standing.
Belizean forests support over 700 tree species including a large variety of economically and historically important trees. Economically valuable trees have played a vital role in the history of the country. Indeed, the history and the very existence of Belize as a colony is inseparable form the logging industry. Among the most important historical tree crops are logwood, mahogany and chicle. The national tree of Belize is the Mahogany Tree (Swietenia Macrophilla).
Fruits and Nuts
Common fruit trees of Belize include Cashew, Coconut, Custard Apple, Guava, Mango and Papaya, Banana, Pineapple and Mammee.
The national flower of Belize is the Black Orchid (Encyclia Cocheeata). There are approximately 250 species of orchids in Belize.
At Ix Chel Farm, the Panti Medicinal Trail winds through a living display of arboreal and herbal remedies in the second-growth forest. The trees of nature seem overwhelming as one strolls along the path, along which signs describe one plant after another, many bearing unusually descriptive names. By cooperating with the wise elders of a community, ethnobotanists have been able to collect samples of many unusual plant specimens, and new kinds of non-traditional medicine are now being used to treat the sick and injured.
Other Plant Life
Belize is estimated to have roughly 4,000 species of native flowering plants (Angiosperms) of which 2,500 are dicots (Dwyer and Spellman 1981) and 1,500 are monocots (Spellman et al. 1975). The latter include approximately 250 species of orchids (B. Adams, pers. comm.). Approximately 700 species of native trees are reported for Belize, representing 331 genera in 87 plant families.
There are five cat species in Belize. The largest, the jaguar was among the most revered animal of the ancient Maya and even today, commands great respect among Belizeans. Alan Rabinowitz, during an intensive field study, brought the jaguar into the international spotlight as a means to protect the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, the only designated jaguar preserve in the world. The other four native cats of Belize are the puma, ocelot, margay and the jaguarundi.
The community Baboon Sanctuary was established in 1985 to protect one of the few healthy black howler monkey populations in Central America.
Called a "mountain cow" by the locals, this nocturnal species is the national animal of Belize. Still fairly plentiful here, the Baird's tapir has almost disappeared from the rest of its native Central America and Mexico, earning it a place on the endangered species list.
Belize is said to have the largest population of manatees of any country, with the possible exception of the United States. They have been protected in Belize for many years.
Other mammals include the river otter, Brainville's spotted dolphin, rough-toothed dolphin, Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphin, peccary, hickatee and deer among others.
Three of the world's eight species of sea turtle are known to nest in Belize: the green, loggerhead, and hawksbill. All three species found in Belize, have been declared endangered. Visitors are urged to respect the nesting season , June 1st to August 31st.
Variously known as the yellow-jaw tommygoff, barba amarilla, and tres minutos, the fer-de-lance is a nocturnal pit viper related to the water moccasin and tropicl rattlesnake. The fer-de-lance is at home in any part of Belize, including cities and can be vicious if it does decide to attack.
Two iguanid species also live in Belize: the green iguana or "bush-chicken " and the black or land iguana, locally called a "wish-willy". Basilisks, locally labeled, "the Jesus Christ lizard" are also found in Belize.
There are two crocodile species in Belize, the American crocodile which occurs mainly in coastal areas and Morelet's crocodile which is found in areas in the Community Baboon Sanctuary. Creole name for both is "alligator".
The pamphlet entitled "Checklist of the Birds of Belize" (Carnegie Museum of Natural History) lists over 530 species that have been sighted here, including more than 200 migratory birds from North America who winter in the tropics. In many parts of the inland forest, it is not unusual to see as many as 120 birds over a period of as little as four or five days. At the request of the Belize Audubon Society, seven small mangrove cayes were declared bird sanctuaries. These cayes are nesting rookeries for Wood Storks, Great and Cattle Egrets, Boat-billed and Tricoloured Herons, Reddish Egrets and White Ibis, as well as Magnificent Frigatebirds, Anhingas and other birds.