Dave Looks for Plants

Journal of a plant explorer

Archive for the ‘#20-2-Ecuador: Feb. 2015’ Category

The Old Loja Road and goodbye Zamora

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

My last day in Zamora Chinchipe we drove along the old Loja road that runs along the mountain slopes on the opposite side of the river from the new road.  There is a huge hydroelectric project under construction in this area, so there was lots of heavy equipment moving up and down the road.

Along this road we saw many more plants of the pubescent form of Costus laevis that I had first seen at the abandoned finca in Podocarpus National Park.  Some of them had especially beautiful flowers.



 The road eventually climbs to 1600 meters where it joins the new Loja road.  The river at this point narrows in a canyon and becomes very deep and fast moving.



We returned to Marco’s house to reflect on the thirteen days of searching Zamora Chinchipe for Costus.  We had learned a lot.  We found Costus zamoranus in its various forms throughout the province and learned that it only grows in shady forest understory.  The only other species found in the Mayo Chinchipe area is the terminal flowering Costus aff. claviger.

We learned that the species Costus laevis found in the areas east of the Andes (as with the type from Peru) is quite diverse and is completely different from the Costus laevis found in Central America and west of the Andes.  In Zamora Chinchipe there is the “Podocarpus” form with its huge inflorescences and glabrous parts.  At higher altitudes is a pubescent form.  In the lower Rio Zamora and Rio Yacuambi watersheds is the pendent ‘El Gato’ form.  And finally there is a plant with deep purple undersides to the leaves that is likelyto be yet another form.

We learned that Costus amazonicus is quite widespread in Zamora Chinchipe and apparently it hybridizes easily with other species.

We learned that the Costus aff. guanaiensis in the Nangaritza form has a very limited distribution, as we found it ONLY in the Nangaritza watershed.

And most of all we had solidified our friendship and committed to continue working together in the future.



That evenening I took the night bus to Guayaquil and then on to Caluma in Bolívar Province for the final part of my trip, searching for the critically endangered Costus geothyrsus.


Tundayme and El Oso Road

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

The next day we went back to the Cordillera del Condor, to the northeast of El Pangui in an area called Tundayme.  The road goes far back into the cordillera where a Chinese company has been mining for gold and copper under an Ecuadorian government permit.  This warning sign was found several places along the road indicating that the Shuar people are not all that happy having this mining activity in their native lands.



Translation:  Cascomi collective ownership. The person or company entering or doing damage to this property will be criminally prosecuted or subjected to the indigenous justice.

The Shuar have come a long way from their “shrunken head” past.  This community has a Facebook page at (Cascomi Comunidad Cordillera Del Cóndor Mirador) that includes many photos of their peaceful protests against the miners and the government, but the veiled threat is there none the less.


 So at any rate, we made sure we stayed along the road and did not venture too far into the forests there.  We did see many beautiful Costus plants, including Costus amazonicus…..


IMG_3177 IMG_3174
and Costus zamoranus,  in both a basal and terminal flowering form – all between 1000 and 1200 meters.

IMG_3199 IMG_3187

Details of these plants are on this THUMBNAIL SHEET.  The differences between the two species were sometimes difficult to discern, but the clear C. amazonicus plants have broad, hairy, somewhat plicate leaves and the bract margins are distinctively fibrous.  The C. aff. zamoranus have narrower leaves, either glabrous or nearly so, and the bract margins are entire.  I suspect there is a good deal of natural hybridization going on between the two.

From Tundayme, we drove back to El Pangui for lunch then drove to the west along the El Oso Road.  I had been there before in 2009 with Carla, Angel and Bruce, but we did not stop to walk back into the few forested fragments that remain in the area.   This trip we did stop and sure enough, back under the heavy shade of forest we found more of the Costus zamoranus at 1300 meters. 


IMG_3215 IMG_32162


Cord. del Condor – Rio Numbaime & El Zarza

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

We drove north of Zamora to the town of Los Encuentros, then across the Rio Zamora and into the Cord. del Condor area to the east.  Marco had told me he found his original ‘Marco’s Pride’ plant along the Rio Numbaime and I wanted to see it in habitat and see what else might be there.  Most of this area is at low elevation 800-900 meters but the tepui of the cordillero could be seen in the distance.  A trail follows the Rio Numbaime up to a waterfall.


IMG_3085 IMG_3084

We did not see ‘Marco’s Pride’ there, but along this trail we saw several plants of Costus amazonicus and another plant that looked like it could be Costus zamoranus.  The former was terminal flowering and had the characteristic fibrous margins to the bracts.  The latter was a basal flowering plant that had the same kind of “detrius” covering as the plants we had seen in Nangaritza.

Costus amazonicus

Costus aff. zamoranus
IMG_3105 IMG_3104

From there we took a different road to higher elevations and found more Costus amazonicus and the pubescent form of Costus laevis, similar to what we had found in the Podocarpus area.  One plant found at 1300 meters appeared to be a natural hybrid of the two – a plant we were calling Costus ‘Reina Rosada’.



Reserva Maycu and Shaime Village

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

This day we drove back past Las Orquídeas the north to go to the Reserva Maycu and the Shuar village of Shaime. The last time I was in this area was in 2009, and the only way to get a car across the river to the east side was by ferry.  That year we were staying at the Yankuam Lodge, took a boat across from there and walked on up the road a couple of kilometers.


Ecuador2009-150-edited Ecuador2009-152-edited

Now there is a new bridge at the same location.  It is adorned with a beautiful statue at the top recognizing the Shuar heritage of the region.  A multi-lingual sign at the site tells the Shuar legend of the bearded men with big eyes who came seeking the golden chair of Arutam.


IMG_3001-edited IMG_3003-edited IMG_3002-edited

There is also a protected area a few km to the east of the bridge called Reserva Maycu where there is still good primary forest right along the road.  Here we found many more plants of the same form of Costus aff. zamoranus we had seen near Las Orquídeas.   Here the plants were growing in sticky grey shale clay, and all the inflorescences were covered with detrius that was apparently cultivated there by the omnipresent ants.  The flowers were similar to those from the type location at Valladolid, but the bracts have a distinctive red margin and a dark red nectar callus.  More photos of the details of this form can be found on my THUMBNAIL SHEET.


 We followed the road as it winds back to the river to the north and then went back across by boat to the Shaime village.  Someone there had reported a blue flowered Costus, but we could not find her to ask about it and we ultimately concluded that it must have been one of the Costus amazonicus plants with a deeper purplish color.  We walked through some small remnant forest areas but most of the area around the village has been deforested and made into pasture land.



Back across the river we saw several non-flowering plants that are most likely the yellow flowering form of Dimerocostus strobilaceus subsp. strobilaceus, the same as what is cultivated and growing in front of the Yankuam Lodge (photo below).



 From there we headed back to Zamora but there was one piece of unfinished business.  Along the entrance road among all the thousands of plants of the white flowered Costus aff. guanaiensis, Marco Jr. had spotted a pure pink flowered plant along the road as we sped by.  On our way back out of the area we were looking for that plant and had decided in advance it should be named Costus ‘Pink Floyd’.  Marco Sr. had told how in his younger days he was a  fan of the rock group but after he got married all his albums disappeared and were replaced by more traditional Ecuadorian music and religious music.

Sure enough, just as we were about to reach the road construction and leave the Nangaritza watershed, there it was.   If successfully propagated, this will be registered  with the cultivar name ‘Pink Floyd’.   There was some Costus amazonicus growing just across the road and I am thinking this is probably a hybrid with that species.  More photos on the THUMBNAIL PAGE.



As mentioned earlier, this area is booming and they are improving the old gravel road by widening it and replacing with a modern concrete roadway.  We were delayed by an hour and a half as the road was closed for the construction until 5 PM that afternoon.


IMG_3077-edited IMG_3075-edited


Rio Nangaritza

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

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.



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.


IMG_2938-edited IMG_2937-edited IMG_2936-edited

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.


IMG_2959-edited IMG_2961-edited

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.



 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.

Quebrada Cuzuntza

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

On Saturday Marco Jr. had some university paperwork to do so Marco Sr. and I set out for Quebrada Cuzuntza, which is on the east side of the Rio Zamora, in the Parroquial de Cumbaratza.  We hiked up the Quebrada to an altitude of 1430 meters.  Along the way we saw several of the same Costus with the purple undersides to the leaves as we had seen along Quebrada Tunantza Alto, but none of them were in flower.


IMG_2883-edited IMG_2882-edited

We stood well out of the way while some fresh-cut lumber was being dragged down the quebrada.  Every year, more and more trees are cut down for their lumber, and there is loss of habitat for the rare plants of Zamora Chinchipe.  Marco was teaching me Spanish, and we were singing the following little song as we walked along the quebrada:

Cuando los agricultores talan los árboles, las orquídeas pierden sus casas y hay menos orquídeas para disfrutar.


IMG_2892-edited IMG_2893-edited IMG_2894-edited

We continued on to an open area near the top where we had a nice view of the mountains and valley below and saw another fine example of the pubescent form of Costus laevis with the mostly yellow flowers.


IMG_2902-edited IMG_2909-edited

We returned to Marco’s house in time for lunch and walked around in his garden during the afternoon.  He has a fantastic collection of orchids and other plants, and also raises several species of sting-less bees.


IMG_2919-edited IMG_2916-edited

Marco also uses the Costus plants in his garden (sometimes adding other herbs) to make a “Costus Tea”.    The thick basal stems of any large Costus can be used, but he usually uses the Dimerocostus strobilaceus that is growing in his garden.  The stems are cut into lengths of about 6 inches, then quartered longitudinally, and boiled for about ten minutes, then allowed to steep overnight.  The taste is surprisingly mild and semi-sweet like other herbal teas, and is well known in Latin America as a medicinal drink to prevent or cure kidney stones.



Rio Yacuambi

Friday, February 20th, 2015

One of the main tributaries to the Rio Zamora watershed is the Rio Yacuambi which descends from the Andes in the northwest and flows in a southeasterly direction where it joins the Rio Zamora.    On Friday we went to explore that region, first turning north along the road to the community of Carmela and then walking a short way down a trail toward the community of Baranquilla.   Along this road we saw several beautiful full flowering plants of Costus amazonicus.  This species flowers either basally or terminally, but is easily distinguished from similar species by the bracts which have fibrous margins – not with clean, smooth edges as in other similar species.  The flower colors vary somewhat, and to me the most beautiful ones were the ones with darker pink corolla lobes.


IMG_2858-edited IMG_2844-edited


We then proceeded on up the main road along the Rio Yacuambi.  All along the way we saw many plants of the white flowering Costus ‘El Gato’ that I had first seen at Gualaquiza in 2007. 




And near the village of 28 de Mayo (listed on the map as “24 de Mayo”) we saw one with a pink colored labellum similar to my seedling ‘El Gato’ plant that I call ‘Pink Panther’.




We continued up into the mountains of the Cord. de Corconcilla and walked along a trail to about 1200 meters but did not see anything else of interest.

Rio Numbami

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

The next day we started out going to a nearby forested area just outside Zamora to the northwest.  There we found more of the Podocarpus form of Costus laevis at about 1100 meters, but there was not a lot of forest in the area, so we next headed for the higher altitude reserve area of Numbami Alto.



In this area we found many more plants of the pubescent form of Costus laevis that we had seen at the deserted farm at Podocarpus.  This form seems to only be found at the higher altitudes (between 1200 and 1600 meters) whereas the Podocarpus form is found below 1200 meters.  The forms of the flowers and the hairiness of the leaves varies somewhat, but the plants are recognizable and distinguishable by the size of the inflorescence and the various flower parts – especially by the much smaller calyx and bracteole. 

The Podocarpus form…..



And the pubescent form …..



Here was a pubescent form found with pale yellow flowers.



In his garden, Marco has a plant of the species Costus erythrophyllus which he collected locally many years ago, but he could not remember for sure exactly where.  Here is a photo I took of this plant during my 2007 visit in Marco’s garden – and one with flowers taken recently by Marco Jr.


Costus_erythrophyllus-MarcoZamora-rs C_erythrophyllus-Marco1


He thought it might have been at the nearby Quebrada Tunantza Alto, so we headed there next.  We did find a plant growing there that has purple backed leaves, but it is not the same plant as in Marco’s garden, and I don’t think it is C. erythrophyllus.  It was not in flower so I cannot say for sure but I think it more likely to be another form of C. laevis – possibly the pendent ‘El Gato’ form like the ones I saw in 2013 in Peru.

Here is the one seen at Quebrada Tunantza



Podocarpus National Park

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

On Wednesday we went to the Parque Nacional Podocarpus, which has a north entrance along the Rio Bombusco a short distance from Zamora.  Along the entry road we spotted a huge (literally huge) surprise.  It was the same Costus form I had seen in the park in 2007 minus flowers and here it was in full bloom.   I had collected seeds in 2007, but that plant had not yet flowered for me, so I was not sure what species it was.  The general “look” of the plant made me think Costus laevis, and here it was confirmed.  But not like any other Costus laevis form I had ever seen.  Not even close to the plants found in Central America or the western side of the Andes in South America.

Typical Costus laevis flowers from Central America


Form found at Podocarpus National Park

R3331-05 R3331-01

First of all, this was the biggest inflorescence I had ever seen in a Costus.  The plant itself was also fairly large and the leaves as well.  But what really caught my attention was the fact that the upper leaves were gathered around the infloresence, partially sheathing it just like the pendent flowering Costus ‘El Gato’ I had seen from nearby Gualaquiza and other places on the eastern side of the Andes. 

Later on, examining the herbarium voucher specimen of the type for the species from Peru, I can see now that the leaves are covering the inflorescence in the same way.  This all leads me to conclude that the true species Costus laevis is of the form found on the eastern side of the Andes, and the plants in Central America and west of the Andes in South America should revert back to their original species names or possibly be renamed as a separate species.  They are simply too distinctly different to be lumped into the same bucket unless there is convincing DNA evidence to the contrary.

For those who may be interested in such things, a thumbnail sheet with all the details of the flower parts can be found on my website HERE .

After we reached the park and walked along the trails we saw several more of these plants, many of them in flower, so there could be no doubt about it.


Marco said he remembered seeing yet another plant, different from this glabrous one, having very hairy leaves.  So we kept hiking uphill and off the trail to an abandoned finca where he remembered seeing it.  After bushwhacking our way through thick brush we finally found it.  And yes, this I would is yet  another form of that diverse species we humans call Costus laevis.  To see the full details of the plant and flowers go to my THUMBNAIL SHEET for this plant.  Aside from the hairy leaves this form has much smaller inflorescence, and a very short calyx and other parts making it clearly distinct from the Podocarpus form.


IMG_2704-rs IMG_2717-rs

We walked back along the long trail that follows the east side of the river but did not see any other Costus species, except for the ubiquitous Costus scaber, that is common throughout the region. 


We did however see one very pretty pink bracted Heliconia before heading back to Zamora.


Hel08-Podocarpus1 Hel08-Podocarpus6