Dave Looks for Plants

Journal of a plant explorer

Reserva Cerro Semama

The next morning we went back into town to René’s friend’s house to feed the pigs and chickens, and to get the necessary permit to enter the reserve.  We then took the road past Pita to Puerto Negro where there is a guard station at the end of the paved road.  The guards made some phone calls to verify the permit, then took our ID’s to hold until we returned.  Once they were satisfied that we were allowed to enter, we started walking on down the gravel road, which was on the low, flat plain below the mountain, with a large corn field all along the road.  I assumed that René knew where we were going and that eventually we would come to a trail leading back into the forest to our left.  After we had walked a couple of km down the road, one of the guards came up to us on a motorbike and started talking with René.  As it turned out, this road just led further into the Hacienda Clementina and there is no trail from there leading up to the forest.


So after some confusing dialog, with my poor Spanish and indicating that I wanted to enter the forest up to our left, the guard granted permission for us to cut through the corn field and work our way into the forest.  He took my photo with his cell phone, presumably for identification purposes in case we did not return.

 So we started walking through the corn field toward the trees in the distance and soon came to a river that was running too fast and too deep to cross.  We worked our way up stream until we came across a fallen tree that went far enough across to get to a shallow place and decided to try it.



We made it across with no problems but I could tell that René was a bit nervous about bushwhacking our way deep into the forest on the other side. The guards would not allow him to bring his machete along so I marked the key points with my GPS and used my pocket knife to mark our “trail” for the way back. We just kept working our way uphill to try to get into better forest and eventually started seeing some Costus. The first one sighted was a Dimerocostus, but was not in flower. Then I saw a Costus with the characteristic hairiness and reddish margins on the ligules of Costus lima. A little farther and sure enough, there was a mature inflorescence of that species.


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We spent another hour or so working our way through this forest, which was little more than 200 meters in altitude, but the only other Costus found was a non-flowering plant that I believe to be the sought-after species Costus geothyrsus.  It is the only Costus I found in the region with the plicate leaves as shown below.


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René was concerned that he had told the guards we would only be gone a few hours, and he clearly wanted to head back, so we slowly worked our way back looking for our own footprints and broken branches to get back to the same river crossing.  We were back to the guard station by 2 PM and had lunch, then drove down another road in an area known as “El Valle” between Caluma and Las Esmeraldas.  Along this road there were only a few very small fragments of forest remaining, and the only other Costus we saw was more of the same white flowering form of Costus guanaiensis var. tarmicus we had seen at his fathers banana farm.

It was really quite a disappointment that we were unable to see more of the reserve at Cerro Semama but the political situation with the seizure of the Hacienda Clementina and the closing of the reserve had made it too difficult.  Dr. Stahl had sent me a map of the reserve showing its trails and entry points, one of which was a place between Pita and Puerto Negra called “La Colonia”.  René had never heard of that place and neither had several other people he stopped in the area and asked, so apparently that name on the maps is not really known at all by the locals.  It is likely that if there was a guard station as shown on the maps at those trail entrances, it is no longer being staffed and researchers are no longer allowed to enter.  I can only hope that the area remains under protection from deforestation so that this species, Costus geothyrsus will not come to the same fate of extinction as so many others have.

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