Dave Looks for Plants

Journal of a plant explorer

Archive for July, 2008

Peru 2008

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

Heliconia Society International – Peru Conference 2008

The Heliconia Society International holds a conference every two years alternating between the western hemisphere and the eastern hemisphere.  In July 2008 I attended my first HSI conference in Iquitos, Peru and was asked to make a presentation on Costus.  We also traveled down the Amazon River to the San Rafael Indian village where we walked as short trail, and for the first time I saw the species Costus erythrocoryne and Dimerocostus appendiculatus (f/k/a Dimerocostus strobilaceous subsp. appendiculatus).

I really liked the town of Iquitos and every evening I would stroll along the boardwalk (El Malecón) and “people watch” in the evening breeze.  One such evening I even took part impromptu in a comedy sketch being performed there.  I wrote up this story in Spanish (for practice) called “El Payaso Gringo” with a version in English and Spanish.


Heliconia Society Post Conference Tour

At the end of the conference I went on a post-conference tour conducted by Devon Graham of Project Amazonas.   We traveled by boat down the Amazon river and across the isthmus to the town of Mazón. There we boarded the houseboat and visited the project’s new reserve up the Rio Mazón.  From there we went up the Rio Napo, and then back around on the Amazon River.  It was a great trip and I found several very interesting Costus for the first time, including Costus arabicusCostus longibracteolatus, and Costus lasius in the region of its type locality.

Tarapoto and Alto Mayo Reserve – Departmento San Martín

After the Iquitos conference and tour I flew to the town of Tarapoto in Department San Martín.  I arranged a taxi to take me to a small waterfall park to look for Costus and also to a recreational area just outside the city, called Laguna Venecia.  Here I found a plant  that that looks very much like Costus spiralis.  It was previously was considered a synonym of Costus laevis, but now has been determined as the species Costus weberbaueri.

There is one species of Costaceae that is endemic to the Tarapoto region – the species Monocostus uniflorus.  I had researched prior to the trip and knew that one area where it was known was to the south of Tarapoto along the Rio Huallaga.  Eventually I was able to arrange for someone to take me there on his moto and we searched some forest fragments near the village of Shapaja but had no luck in finding it.  What I did find, however, was a different species endemic to the region (but considered a synonym of another species) – Costus tarapotensis.  I believe this species should be retained as an accepted species, but further research is needed to confirm this.

When I was in Iquitos, one of the participants at the HSI conference had suggested I go to the Alto Mayo Reserve in the north of Department San Martín.  She gave a contact name – Ramiro Galoc (ranger of the Bosque de Protección Alto Mayo) –  and I arranged to meet him in Rioja.  To get to Rioja there are no buses but they use a system I call “relay taxis”.  I have only ever seen this in one other place, in southern Bolivia.   You start out in one town in a “colectivo” taxi (usually a Toyota Corolla station wagon) and when there are enough passengers to fill the car, it travels to the next town, maybe 20 kilometers down the road.  Then everyone gets out and you get in another Toyota Corolla and wait for it to fill up before it takes you to the next town, and so on until you get to your destination.  For my trip from Tarapoto to Rioja this required about 8 taxi rides – each time changing cars and waiting for it to fill with passengers, or you could go ahead and pay the full price of vacant seats and go on to the next town without waiting for more passengers.

Finally I arrived at Rioja and met up with Ramiro.  The first day he took me on his moto to a property he owned  outside of town to look for plants, then to the headquarters of the Alto Mayo Reserve where I had to obtain a permit to enter the reserve.  That evening we went to a small tienda where there were people gathered at tables, drinking and eating snack food and socializing.  Ramiro wanted to show me off to his friends there.  This was in 2008 just after the Democratic Presidential Convention, and I was a big supporter of Barack Obama.  By the end of the evening I had all the people in the place cheering and doing Obama “fist bumps”.  

The next day we went by “relay taxi” through several small towns up into the mountains of the Alto Mayo reserve.  There is an old semi-deserted building there where a caretaker lives and there are tents set up inside a shelter.  All that night the caretaker had his transistor radio blaring out loud with Latin music, so it was hard to fall asleep.  The next day I asked Ramiro why the caretaker had his loud radio going all night long.  He told me the guy was very superstitious and the radio was on to keep evil spirits away.

Ramiro and I then walked through some poorly maintained trails looking for Costus and it turned out there was only ONE species at that high elevation.  It looked to me to be similar to the species Costus scaber but with important differences in the details, so that I thought it might be an undescribed species.  Eventually I registered it with a cultivar name of ‘Twister’ based on the way the bracts twist and spiral around the inflorescence.  It was not until ten years later, after finding this form in other parts of Peru at similar high elevations that I determined it to be a new species, soon to be published as Costus rubineus

I soon learned that Ramiro takes his job as a guard very seriously.  As we were walking through the forest and got near the road we could see a tour bus stopped along side the road.  We climbed up out of the forest to the highway and there was a bird watching tour with about 20 tourists standing out on the road with their binoculars looking for birds.  Ramiro approached the tour operator and asked him for his permit.  He warned the operator that a permit is required, even just to stop along the road and look for birds!  No one was entering the forest.  He then took down the license tag of the vehicle and wrote up a warning citation.  He told the operator that he must now drive on down to Rioja to the headquarters and obtain a permit or else he would be fined.


Ramiro Galoc talking (in Spanish) about the Alto Mayo Reserve