Dave Looks for Plants

Journal of a plant explorer

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Panama 2008

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

El Valle

The first stop on my 2008 trip to Panama was the town of El Valle.  I stayed in a small hotel in the middle of town and hiked to various places nearby.  First I went on the trail to the petroglyphs (Piedra Pintada) and then up the trail of the sleeping Indian (La India Dormada).  Various common species of Costus were seen.

The second day I hired a guide, Rodolpho, who took me on the long hike up to the old hotel where I found a glabrous form of Costus lasius and the square trunked tree (arbol cuadrado).  We then walked through fields and small trails past a large chicken farm that eventually reached the entrance to Cerro Gaital – a well known reserve with a loop trail to an overlook where you could see the town of El Valle.  Along this trail the most notable species seen was Costus curvibracteatus.  Around the base of the mountain is a sizeable population of Costus lasius.

That night I was kept awake by a couple of hours of music and marching bands as the people were celebrating Panama’s 4th of July – “Separation Day” – when Panama was split from Colombia.

El Copé

From El Valle, I took several buses and eventually arrived at the town of El Copé.  The buses were all very crowded as it was a holiday weekend.  Then I caught a mini-van colectivo which dropped me off a few kilometers on down the road at the home of the Nava family I had arranged to stay with for the next three nights.  That night I walked with the family a into the town where they were marching in celebration of Separation Day.  The kids all had homemade ornaments lit with candles.  In the morning Santo and Ana’s daughter was dressed up in uniform for a school parade and celebration.  

Santo Nava was my guide to take me into the Omar Torrijos National Park, and several other small roads and trails in the region.  Here I found several unusual looking and unidentified Costus as well as the more common Costus kuntzei (f/k/a Costus laevis) and Dimerocostus strobilaceus.

One of the days I was there we had very heavy rain all day long and the quebrada in front of the house was a torrent.  We could not safely hike the trails that day so I was staying all day long, entertaining the children and keeping as busy as I could.  The entire family came to visit later on and I took photos of the Navas family.  Perhaps the highlight of the trip was when I joined the family gathering in front of a small black and white television with a snowy picture and watched the news of Barack Obama’s election victory – the election of the greatest president of my time!

Santa Fé de Veraguas

From El Copé I took a series of 5 buses to get to the town of Santa Fé de Veraguas and stayed in a small hotel on the outskirts.  The next day my guide, Pedrocito and I went to Alto Piedras and then walked the long steep trail up to the top of Cerro Mariposa.  This mountain is often confused by biologists with another nearby mountain to the south called Cerro Tute.  Along this trail I found the plant that I now believe to be an undescribed species but is currently included in Costus comosus(NOTE: I returned there in 2019 with Carla Black and Juvenal Batista to study this taxon more thoroughly.)

Carla Black’s Garden

From Santa Fe I went by bus to David where I was picked up by Carla’s husband Angel and his German collaborator Jaquin.  Angel is a seismologist and has a recording station near their home in the town of Volcán.  The next day the four of us went to the Fortuna Reserve, and Carla and I returned to their home a couple of days later.  Below are mostly photos taken at Angel and Carla’s home and garden just outside of the town of Volcán.

Fortuna Forest Reserve

In the Fortuna Forest Reserve we hiked several of the trails and spent the night at the Willie Mazu lodge which was still in operation at that time.  There at Willie Mazu is a Costus that Dr. Paul Maas is publishing as a new species Costus callosus.  Other species common in the area include Dimerocostus strobilatceus, Costus lima, Costus macrostrobilus (f/k/a Costus guanaiensis var. macrostrobilus) and Costus curvibracteatus.

Rio Teribe

My last stop on this trip was at an indigenous village up the Rio Teribe in Bocas del Toro.  The river was low in places as  they were constructing a hydroelectric project that was concerning due to its affect on the ecology of the area. 

A man from the village (Plutarco) was my guide there and we spent one day hiking an area across the river and another day heading up into the mountains along the Rio Bonyic.  The most interesting Costus I saw there was a plant with an inflorescence very much like Costus pulverulentus but with flowers like Costus scaber.  At first I thought it might be a hybrid but since then I have seen other populations in Bocas del Toro and they are similar to the form of Costus pulverulentus found in Mexico and other parts of Mesoamerica.  I have given this form (from Panama) a cultivar name of Costus ‘Mongrel’.  I believe with further research it may turn out to be yet another undescribed species.

The other interesting Costus I saw were a narrow leaf form of Costus bracteatus and a likely hybrid of Costus villosissimus with Costus macrostrobilus.