Belize only gained complete independence in 1981, but this young country is rich with powerful national symbols. Perhaps the best known is the national flag, the only one of its kind to depict human beings. Belize also has several national symbols of wildlife due to the country’s highly diverse ecosystem and lush natural habitats.
Below are the national symbols of Belize:
Belize National Tree
The national tree of Belize is the mahogany (Latin name: Swietenia macrophilia). Not only are mahogany trees resplendent in their own right, often soaring more than 100 feet into the sky, but their straight trunks and rich grain interiors were what attracted a motley crew of English seamen and former pirates to settle in the country. Because these English settlers coalesced in the coastal areas, they became known as Baymen and played an important role in Belize’s history.
Mahogany trees propagate by growing small pear-shaped fruits (that are inedible for people) once a year. When the fruits mature, they split into five parts, each part containing a seed with a “wing” that allows it to be carried away by the wind. Left untouched, a mahogany tree will reach its full maturity in around 70 to 80 years. Today, mahogany logging is strictly regulated by law.
Belize National Flower
The national flower of Belize is the black orchid (Latin name: Encyclia cohleatum). Several hundred different species of orchids flourish in Belize and primarily grow on the limbs of trees. The “black” orchid is actually a flower with green/yellow petals and a central petal with deep purple or brown colors.
Black orchids can grow up to six inches (15 cm) high and have two or three yellow/green leaves. Their Latin name means “clamshell” because their biggest petal (the “black” one) looks like the inside of a clamshell.
Belize National Bird
The national bird of Belize is the keel-billed toucan (Latin name: Ramphastos solfurantus). Toucans are some of the most iconic birds in the world, and the keel-billed is notable for having bright yellow chest feathers and a huge beak with neon green and red colors.
Toucans measure around 20 inches (50 cm) long and are excellent fliers. They primarily consist on fruit and prefer to nest in the side of trees, using their big beaks to enlarge existing holes. Toucans emit a continuous “croaking” sound that is very similar to the sound that frogs make.
Toucans usually lay between two and four eggs that are then protected and incubated by both parents for six to seven weeks.
Belize National Animal
Baird’s Tapir, often known locally as a “Mountain Cow” (Latin name: Tapirello Bairdii) is the largest indigenous land animal in Belize. Tapirs are not related to cows in any way but are vegetarian grazers who must spend almost all of their waking hours eating. Baird’s Tapirs are primarily nocturnal animals and are rarely spotted during the day.
Baird’s tapirs are approximately the same size as a donkey but can weigh up to 600 pounds (270 kg) or more. Baird’s tapirs are extremely good swimmers and spend most of their time in and around water and mud shallows. Baird’s Tapirs have a dark brown coat with small white accents, particularly around the face.
Baird’s tapirs are named for Spencer Fullerton Baird, an American naturalist who documented the animals in 1843. In Spanish, they are often called “dantas.”
The Coat of Arms
The Belize coat of arms is used on the national flag as well as official documents. The outer part of the coat of arms is a ring or wreath of 25 two-lobed green leaves (for a total of 50 leaves) from an unspecified plant. Inside the wreath in the lower part of the center is the national motto, Sub Umbra Florero, which is Latin for “In the shade, I flourish.”
Prominently displayed in the coat of arms are two shirtless, shoeless men wearing white trousers. The man on the right is of darker complexion and is holding a paddle in his right hand which rests on his left shoulder. The man on the left is of lighter complexion and is holding an ax in his right hand which is resting on his left shoulder. Originally, the two men were meant to be European and African, but the current version of the flag is now meant to depict two persons of color from the Creole and Mestizo cultures respectively.
Between the two men is a shield divided into three segments. The bottom segment has a light blue background and features a sailing ship on a dark blue sea. The upper left segment has a white background and shows a beating ax crossed with a paddle. The upper right segment has a yellow background and features an ax crossed with a two-person handsaw. These four tools represent the logging industry.
In the center of the ring but behind the shield is a fully mature mahogany tree.
Belize National Flag
The Belize flag consists of a royal blue field with one thin red stripe on the top and one thin red stripe at the bottom. In the center of the flag, the coat of arms is prominently displayed.
The blue and white colors on the flag represent the two political parties present in Belize when the country gained independence, the People’s United Party (PUP) and the United Democratic Party (UDP). The red stripes were added in 1981 to make the flag more inclusive.