Thursday, August 26, 2010

Link to Botany in Guatemala; Engaging students and building science literacy.

Many urban schools in the United States and Canada have students of Mayan descent. Some of these students are from Guatemala. When choosing science fair projects, they might like to use knowledge from their own backgrounds, or learn of plants their ancesters use(d). The link above provides some information. For example,

The Petén floristic associations are continuous with associations in the Mexican Lacandon region (CPD Site MA1). Since much of the Petén is not well known botanically, it is difficult to estimate the number of vascular plants or endemics. The floristic diversity of the Maya BR is considered exceptional, with over 3000 plant species (CONAP 1992). The overall region's flora is considered distinctive; e.g. many of the Petén's regionally endemic taxa are shared to varying extents with northern Belize and Mexico's majority of the Yucatán Peninsula to eastern Tabasco and the eastern highlands of Chiapas (Breedlove 1981; Wendt 1993). Most local Petén endemics have been found in areas that allow little human intervention, such as steep hills and swamps (Lundell 1937).

Information on the distribution of plants in the Petén, for example to determine which are the rare species, is still very limited and incomplete. Subtropical forests contain relatively low tree-species diversity and a higher number of individuals per species (Salafsky, Dugelby and Terborgh 1993). The high densities of species such as Manilkara zapota, Chamaedorea spp. and Pimenta dioica facilitate extractive industry.

Here in these quoted paragraphs, a student can find genus and species names of some of the plants from Guatemala. These names can spark a literature/internet search on uses of the plants. A child might be able to find some of them in North American supermarkets. Children can talk to their parents, grandparents and other relatives about the plants. They can also visit a virtual herbarium or a nearby botanic garden. Science experiments can build from that research. A lifelong science interest may develop.

Engaging students is a great way to build science literacy.

Using the plant,
Manilkara_zapota , found on the first link we discussed,, students might go to ," Wiki," for more information:

Notice that Guatemala isn't mentioned there, yet, the tree does grow in Guatemala. Knowing this from the Guatemalan link (above), a student can still gather information.

A student might do an image search:

Another student might find something from the University of Florida:

Still another student finds medicinal uses of the plant, including its use as a tooth filling:
Students are starting to get more and more interested. One student asks if we are sure it is the same plant because the Latin name wasn't used on that post. Hmm! That is a good point. Students do further research. "I found it. '
Scientific name: Manikara zapota ' It is the same plant."

Another student finds this important point, further down on the page:

The bark of sapodilla tree is rich in white, gummy latex called chicle (contains 15% rubber and 38% resin). This milky sap is the main ingredient in the manufacture of chewing gum which gives the tree its main importance there.

"Maybe we could try different formulas for chewing gum," suggests one student. Other students are also suggesting ideas to test. "Oh, there's more information here: http%3a//"

Another class member finds this inquiry on the web:

ros 11 months ago

tnx a lot

this info you have given us had been a great help for investigatory project.....

could i leave a request??

how could we extract the chicle from the tree???

Rowena 8 months ago

thank you so


Source:; Accessed August 25, 2010. response was posted. The class decides to look for an answer.

"Here's a patent related to extraction of chicle:"

"Here's a journal article:"

"I found a chapter in a book (
Timber, tourists, and temples: conservation and development in the Maya ... By Richard B. Primack): Look: 'Governmental and Customary Arrangements Guiding Chicle Latex Extraction in Petan Guatemala.' The article is by Barbara L. Dugelby."


There's no stopping the students now. They are off and running! One even found that chewing gum reduces stress and improves test scores. You still have to study though...

(c)2010 J S Shipman.

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