Dave Looks for Plants

Journal of a plant explorer

Archive for February 15th, 2015

Costus zamoranus found

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

Before I even started this trip I had researched as much as possible the original collection of Costus zamoranus on October 14, 1943 by Julian Steyermark – three years before I was born.  The collection note said it was found along the Rio Valladolid at Tambo Valladolid, giving an altitude of 2000 meters. According to Mirriam-Webster.com, a tambo is “an Inca inn or way station on the highroads of ancient Peru“. 

Even today there is not much more than that at Valladolid. 


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The collection itself was noted as being “sterile”, meaning without flowers, and no doubt in the October dry season it would have had no flowers.

It was not until twenty years later that Steyermark formally described this species by publishing it in Phytologia. 9: 339.


So I had used Google Earth to check this location and from the satellite images I could see that most of the area was deforested but there was a small patch of forest across the river from the village.



The next morning we crossed the river and worked our way into the forest patch – and this is what we found!



For those who may be interested in seeing more photos including all the details of the flower parts, I have prepared a thumbnail sheet on my main website.  Here is a photo of the type location – the small forest patch across the river.



So the next question… is this the last of this species or can we find more?  We headed back through town and crossed the river again taking the narrow road toward the community of Tapala.  The road goes through the mountains east of Valladolid and although most of the area is deforested, there were still a few small forest fragments along the road.  Here is a view of the area.



A few km down the road and we did find more Costus zamoranus.  We also found a few plants that were flowering terminally instead of at the base, but otherwise nearly identical to the basal flowering plant found at the type local in Valladolid.  This is a travel blog, so I won’t bore some readers here with all the details of these plants, but for those who are interested, you can find the links to thumbnail sheets of images and descriptions on my main website at http://www.gingersrus.com/DataSheet.php?PID=4602 . Also along this road toward Tapala we found several plants belonging to the Costus aff. claviger group as described by Paul Maas in his 1977 update to his monograph.  These plants are distinguished from the C. zamoranus by having terminal flowers and appendaged bracts as explained further on my website at http://www.gingersrus.com/DataSheet.php?PID=4047 .

Here is Marco Jr. photographing a Costus aff. claviger next to a Costus zamoranus plant.



We returned to Valladolid for lunch then headed on south to the town of Palanda.  Here is a map of the Mayo Chinchipe region.  It does not show all the small roads, and some that appear to be paved highways on this map are really just one-lane rocky or muddy trails.  Ecuador does have a pretty good road system by Latin American standards and they are in the process of paving the main road all the way south to the Peruvian border.



 Near Palanda we took one of these small roads to the west and saw hundreds of Costus aff. claviger plants, but no more Costus zamoranus.  By then it was clear to us that this species can only be found in deep shade of the forest understory.  With all the deforestation in the region, it seemed clear that it was deserving of at least the “vulnerable” status as I had assessed that species on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species.


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There were also some interesting Heliconia species found along that road, but the only Costus we found was C. aff. claviger in variable colors of the flowers and shapes of the bracts.

Some of the Costus aff. claviger plants we saw had the same narrow triangular bracts as the form I had seen in 2007 in Marco’s garden, and have registered with the cultivar name Costus ‘Marco’s Pride’.



We stayed that night in a nice little hotel located on the main square of Palanda. Here is a view of the town from the road we took.



It was a satisfying day.  My primary objective of the trip (to find Costus zamoranus) had already been achieved!