The origin of the name Belize is a little muddy, kind of like the Belize River after a rainstorm! The Mayan word for “muddy water” is belix so Belize may have been derived from it. Or, perhaps a swashbuckling buccaneer, named Peter Wallace, deserves credit for Belize’s name. Legend has it that Wallace, who settled in Belize in 1638, was initially pronounced as “Vallis” (as there is no “W” in Spanish) which became further corrupted into Balis or Belize. Our favourite theory combines the Spanish words Bella Isla (Beautiful Island) into the name Belize.
The shield of the Coat of Arms is divided into three sections by a vertical line and an inverted V.The base section represents a ship in full sail on waves of the sea. The two upper sections show tools of the timber industry in Belize: a paddle and a squaring axe in the right section and a saw
Supporting the shield are two woodcutters, the one on the right holding a beating axe over his shoulder in his right hand, and the one on the left holding a paddle over his shoulder in his left hand.
Above the shield rises a mahogany tree. Below the shield is the motto scroll. A wreath of leaves encircles the Coat of Arms. The Coat of Arms embodies an important aspect of the history of Belize, as the mahogany industry formed the basis of our economy in the 18th and 19th centuries. NATIONAL MOTTO: “Sub Umbra Florero” – These Latin words mean, “Under the shade I flourish.”
Encyclia Cochleatum is the National Flower of Belize. This orchid grows on trees in damp areas, and flowers nearly all year round.Its clustered bulblike stems vary in size up to six inches long and carry two or three leaves.
The black orchid flower has greenish-yellow petals and sepals with purple blotches near the base. The “lip” (one petal of special construction, which is the flower’s showiest) is shaped like a valve of a clam shell (hence the name Encyclia Cochleatum) and is deep purple-brown, almost black, with conspicuous radiating purple veins.
The Mahogany Tree is truly the monarch of Belize’s forests. Towering above the canopy of the forest, Belize’s 100-foot Mahogany Trees reign supreme with their crown of shining, green leaves.
Only through exposure to sunlight does the wood darken to a deep mahogany red as, when first cut, the wood is a pale yellowish-pink colour.
Mahogany was once the darling of the British Honduras Company, which both dominated and decimated the forestry industry. Indiscriminate logging practices, dating back to the 17th century have depleted mahogany resources.
The mahogany industry in Belize really tanked out in the Dirty Thirties and conditions in the mahogany camps became dire. Over the centuries, mahogany has been harvested and sawed for construction, furniture manufacturing, cabinetry and dye. Currently a non-sustainable industry, mahogany is now on the conservation list of Belize’s Ministry of Natural Resources.
Any seeds planted today will mature in 60 to 80 years.
The Tapir is the National Animal of Belize. The Tapir or Mountain Cow is a big bruiser by any measurement. Weighing up to 600 pounds, this vegetarian is the largest land mammal of the American tropics. Dusty brown with white fringes around the eyes and lips, the tapir is kin to the horse and rhinoceros. A strong swimmer that mucks about in the mud shallows, the tapir is protected under Belizean law.
The Keel Billed Toucan is the National Bird of Belize. It is noted for its great, canoe-shaped bill which is made mostly of keratin (same as our fingernails) and its brightly colored green, blue, red and orange feathers. Toucans are born blind and, of note, their tongues are feathered!
Toucans average about 20 inches in overall length and are found in open areas of the country with large trees. They make a loud, frog-like croak that can be heard for half a mile! Toucans are frugivores (fruit eaters) and eat by cutting with the serrated edge of their bills.
Toucans nest in holes in trees, sometimes re-engineering holes made by woodpeckers by enlarging the cavity. They lay two to four eggs which are incubated by both parents during the nesting stage that lasts from six to seven weeks. Toucans can live up to 20 years if they elude their natural predators – snakes, lizards, birds of prey and jaguars.