A U.S. scientific expedition was recently invited by the Honduran
Ministry and Institute of Tourism to visit the departments of
Olancho, Yoro, Atlántida and Cortes in search of samples
of the rare cicadácea palm. The team found three separate
species of the plant, which is currently in danger of extinction.
All three are new to world science and endemic to Honduras.
The exploratory expedition was held from July 9 to August
7 under the direction of the Montgomery Botanical Center of
Miami, Florida. The MBC is a botanical garden specializing
in the study and conservation of cicadáceas.
The scientific team included technicians from the National
Autonomous University of Hondurasâ€™ National Herb Archive,
representatives from the Department of Wildlife and Protected
Areas of the Honduran National Forestry Corporation (COHDEFOR),
and representatives from the Honduran Ministry and Institute
of Tourism, who provided logistical support as part of its
effort to attract scientific tourism to Honduras.
Honduras is of special interest to the MBC because it is believed
to be home to even more species of cicadácea. The Center
is also interested in studying the way rural communities use
Dr. Mark Bonta of Delta State University documented the cultural
history surrounding the Dioone mejia species, known in Olancho
and Yoro as Teocinte. The plant resembles other palm types,
but produces a cone whose seeds are used by locals to make tortillas,
tamales and a beverage called atol.
Not only did the expedition discover three new species, members
also collected samples from a variety of different plants
in order to catalog official descriptions and assign each
new species a scientific name.
The group also worked to inform the organizations that manage
protected areas like Pico Bonito National Park, the Lancetilla
Biological Reserve and the El Merendon Reserve about the existence
of cicadáceas and the importance of protecting them.
Expeditions like this one show that Honduras is a country with
a great deal of natural wealth just waiting to be discovered.