Dave Looks for Plants

Journal of a plant explorer

Costa Rica – December 2006

Costa Rica Trip, November-December 2006

Limon Province in southeastern Costa Rica

Cahuita National Park

My first stop after arriving in San Jose was to take a bus to the Caribbean coastal town of Cahuita.   The Cahuita National Park has a long trail that runs along the beach and the entire area had but one species of Costus – Costus woodsonii, which is the most popular species in cultivation around the world.  I was amazed to find that it grows in the sandy (presumably salty) soil right up the edge of the ocean.

Reserva Hitoy-Cerere

From Cahuita I made my way to the ranger station at the Hitoy-Cerere reserve.  I took a bus that wound its way through miles of banana plantations in the Valle La Estrella as far as I could go toward the reserve.  At the end of the line I managed to find a taxi that I was told could take me the rest of the way to the reserve.  As we started up the mountain the road got worse and worse until it came to a point where the taxi could go no further, slipping and sliding on the muddy road.  My only option was to walk the remaining 5 kilometers with heavy backpack and small bag in tow.

When I finally got there, the guard (who was the only person there) told me yes, I could stay there and sleep in the ranger quarters.  The manager showed up later and told me there were strict prohibitions on doing any kind of research there without having a special permit from San Jose.  I finally convinced him that it was not different from being a bird watcher – I just wanted to look at the plants.  That night I had trouble sleeping because there were swarms of bats flying in and out of the quarters.  The next day I hiked some trails and I did find the rare species Costus nitidus there, although it was not in flower and I could only guess what it was.


From Hitoy-Cerera I managed to catch a ride back down the mountain with the manager, then went by buses through Bribri to the village of Shiroles where I had arranged to stay at an educational center for indigenous young people.  They arranged a guide for me and brought in meals from a lady in the village.  The next day I saw where my food was being prepared – with pigs and chickens running through the little house.  No doubt that’s what led to my terrible stomach problems two days later.

The guide took me up into the mountains to Cerro Mirador where I found the beautiful species Costus bracteatus as well as a huge Costus that turned out to be Costus kuntzei in the “maximus” form.

On Sunday, December 3rd we went across the Telire River at Suretka to enter the indigenous lands of the Bribri indians.  We had to find the chief to get permission to go back into the forest, and it happened to be election day, so he was not available and we could only walk along the small road there where everything was deforested.

Golfito and Osa Peninsula


After returning to San Jose from my Limón adventures and recuperation from the stomach ailments I took a flight to Golfito.  Here I met a Swiss lady, Anne Laure Berrut who was vacationing in the area and we hiked several of the trails together in the hills above Golfito.  I found the species Costus ricus in full flower there.  It is one of the few species of Costus that flowers in the dry season instead of in the wet season.

Friends of the Osa

From Golfito I took the ferry across the Golfo Dulce to Puerto Jimenez and attended a meeting of the organization Friends of the Osa.  Here I met several biologists who are researching on the Osa Peninsula, as well as Bert Kerstetter and Adrian Forsyth, the author of Tropical Nature,  a popular book on tropical ecology.  There were several presentations given by the attendees and I was asked to talk about Costus, so I gave an extemporaneous talk in my best (poor) Spanish.  We then went to the location on the Rio Piro where the organization was developing a biological station to be opened a few months later.

Reinaldo and Catherine Aguilar at Los Charcos

I left Puerto Jimenez and headed north on the peninsula to visit with Reinaldo and Catherine Aguilar at their new farm, Los Charcos de Osa.   Reinaldo is famous for his many plant discoveries and has researched on the Osa Peninsula for over 20 years.  I first met him and Catherine on my first trip to the tropics in 2005 and we would continue to be good friends for many visits and many years to come.   On this trip one of Reinaldo’s friends named Rayner showed me a plant that he had seen on the flood plane of the Rio Rincon.  This plant is believed to be a natural hybrid and has now been registered with the cultivar name Costus ‘Tico Tower’.

Talamanca Mountains

Reserva Durika

My last stop on this trip to Costa Rica was a place Reinaldo told me about, a reserve in the Talamanca mountains called Fundación Reserva Biológica Durika.  I went by bus to Buenas Aires  where I found the Durika in-town offices and then was driven by 4 by 4 vehicle up into the mountains.  This is a beautiful place, with cottages clustered along the mountainside and many trails leading farther back into the mountains.  The place is totally vegetarian with goats providing milk and cheese.  My guide there was Eugenio Garcia Lopez.  As it was the beginning of the dry season in mid December, there were not many Costus in flower, but I did see for the first time the species Costus wilsonii.  Also, unusual at this high elevation, I found a population of Costus kuntzei (f/k/a Costus laevis).

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