The basic plant communities of Belize are similar in many ways to those found in nearby Central American countries and in some ways to those in the southern Atlantic states of the United States. Most U.S. field guides, however, will be of little use. The most readily available literature applicable to Belize will probably include guides designed for use in Costa Rica, Mexico, or southern Florida.
Plant associations in Belize are usually designated by the term “ridge” which has nothing to do with elevation, but rather with changes in vegetation.
Another term frequently encountered is the Aztec word “milpa” meaning corn. This term, spread by the Spanish, now refers to land which has been cleared and cultivated by hand for two or three years, then allowed to lie fallow for a variable length of time (2 to 20 years) and then reused. This system of “milpa” agriculture has been important in altering the plant cover of the country. Abandoned milpa fields are called “guamil.”
You will probably recognize many familiar genera in the following habitat descriptions and species lists, however, many of the common names will be in Spanish or some local dialect. Just as occurs in the U.S., common names are frequently regional with a different name in each region, and many times one common name will be applied to several different species or even different genera. Some common names were given by the Spanish who used terms familiar to them from home, yet had no relation whatsoever to the species they encountered in the New World. Their common names were also of a descriptive nature as with the “cohune” palm. Thus there is a valid argument for the inclusion of scientific names in these accounts. Be aware that the common names given will not necessarily be recognized by the locals in all parts of Belize and that since one plant may have many common names (in English and in Maya or Spanish), only one or two have been selected.