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Combining science and art, new book explores Yucatán’s native palm trees

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“Arecáceas Yucatanenses: Ciencia y Arte” (Science and Art) was presented recently at the Center for Scientific Research of Yucatan (CICY). Photo: Courtesy


Mérida, Yucatán — After more than 20 years of research, a retired biologist has released a vividly illustrated book devoted to Yucatán’s palm trees.

“Arecáceas Yucatanenses: Ciencia y Arte” (“Arecáceas Yucatanenses: Science and Art”) was presented recently at the Center for Scientific Research of Yucatan (CICY).

The work is authored by Dr. Roger Orellana Lanza, in collaboration with Celene Espadas and René Garruña, who took charge of the maps and graphics, as well as some photography.

The main author has more than 40 years as a researcher, and was the founder of the CICY botanical garden which bears his name.

While many palm-tree types were introduced to the Peninsula from other regions, the book takes a deep dive into information about 20 native species. The book indicates their current habitat, their biological status and general distribution across the Yucatán Peninsula. It also contains Mayan glyphs corresponding to each species.

The book was a labor of love possible only after he went into retirement. “Sometimes you have to wait to retire to have time to do the important things, since in daily work you have to do the urgent things first,” he said at a book launch event.

The book is as artistic as it is scientific.

Artists contributing to the book include José Luis Loría, Carlos Escalante, Manuela Castellanos, Adán Azcorra, Alberto Guerra, Alis Mabel Estrada Ávila , José Luis Couoh and Karl Friederich Philipp von Martius.

Orellana dedicated the book to Hermilo J. Quero Rico, a good-natured colleague with whom he worked for years studying palm trees.

A second book will discuss medicinal uses of the palm species.

The book’s editor is Gabriela Herrera Martínez. It was designed by Paola Marfil Lara and the cover photograph is by José Antonio May Mejía.

“Arecáceas Yucatanenses: Ciencia y Arte” is sold at the CICY (map) for 500 pesos.

A pioneer

Orellana is considered a pioneer on the Yucatán Peninsula in conservation and preservation of native species. A regional botanical garden that bears his name was created in 1983 on a 2.5-hectare former henequen plantation in the north of the city.

This space was declared Living Museum of Plants in 1999 by the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat).

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