Dave Looks for Plants

Journal of a plant explorer

Rio Nangaritza

Early Sunday morning I checked out of Hotel Samuria and we went to the Rio Nangaritza region for two days.  My first trip to Ecuador in 2007 I had met Marco Sr. and we had taken the bus to the village of Guayzimi then walked to some forest areas nearby.   Then in 2009 I returned to the area with my friends Carla Black, her husband Angel Rodriquez and Bruce Dunstan.  That trip we met up with Marco and his son and stayed at the Yankuam Lodge, up river from Guayzimi.  So this was my third trip to the region.

 

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The Rio Nangaritza flows between the eastern foothills of the Andes and the famed Cordillero del Cóndor – whose ridge line forms the long disputed border with Peru.  The region has a tumultuous history, with the wars between competing indigenous groups (the Shuar are the dominant group) as well as the battles between Ecuador and Peru that did not end until the 1998 peace treaty that established the current border.   There is a wonderfully detailed description of the area including its history, geology and botanical expeditions on the Missouri Botanical Garden website at http://www.mobot.org/mobot/research/ecuador/cordillera/welcome.shtml.

 After driving over the first ridge from Zumbi and along the road in the Rio Nangaritza watershed, I saw a familiar sight.  This white flowered Costus is found all along the road and has colonized disturbed areas in the region.

 

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The plant has variable amounts of pink coloration on the labellums, some being nearly pure white.  Some plants are found mature and in flower less than 2 meters tall and others approach 3 1/2 to 4 meters tall.  It fits best as a form of Costus guanaiensis, but is unlike any I have seen elsewhere, and despite being extremely common in this area all the way up river as far as the new bridge near the Yankuam Lodge, I have never seen it outside this one area.  It is not found in the other parts of the greater Rio Zamora valley. 

The town of Guayzimi has changed dramatically since I was last there in 2009.  They have built a beautiful new fútbol stadium (even with artificial turf!) and the town seems to be bustling compared to the sleepy little place I saw my first two trips.  We had breakfast there, then took a road and trail up into the mountains to the west to about 1600 meters.   We saw several plants of Costus amazonicus and the pubescent form of Costus laevis at the higher elevations. 

Where the road ended and the trail began, there was a dragline stretching far across the valley and through the clouds to the mountains on the other side, apparently used to haul timber from the other side high above the trees to this point where the road could be used to haul the finished lumber.   Sad evidence that this pristine region will not remain so for many more years.

 

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Then later in the day we went to a small forest fragment near Las Orquídeas where we found a plant in deep shade that is similar to the Costus zamoranus seen earlier near Valladolid.

 

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 That night we stayed in the Hotel Ayamtaic, which was clean, comfortable and reasonable, with private bathrooms and wireless internet – an unexpected surprise for the small town of Guayzimi.

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