Dave Looks for Plants

Journal of a plant explorer

Posts Tagged ‘Costus barbatus’

Cerro Nara

Friday, May 12th, 2006

The next morning I climbed in the saddle and off we went up the mountain.  I am not an experienced horseback rider, and my horse only knew Spanish, so we were in a bit of trouble from the start.  Fortunately the horse had a pretty good idea where we were going and if the horse didn’t, Carlos did.  

When we got near the top, I spotted what I was looking for — the plant that had been (incorrectly) identified as Costus barbatus turned out to be Costus ricus  As it turned out this species which is endemic to Costa Rica and known mostly from the Osa Peninsula was very common there at Cerro Nara.  Costus ricus is the only species of Costus I have found that flowers ONLY in the DRY SEASON.  It starts flowering in January and continues into the early part of the rainy season.  After about August, you will no longer find any new flowers — only the colorful red bracts from the dry season inflorescence.  This worked in my favor for the timing of this trip because I saw hundreds of these plants in full flower at Cerro Nara.


At first Carlos wanted me to stay in a small hut because the generator was not working in the main lodge, but after one look I knew that was not suitable, and took the lodge with or without electricity.  It is a huge place with a beautiful view of the coastal plain and the Pacific Ocean below.  My meals were prepared by the caretaker’s family who lived about a km down the road.

The next three days I spent exploring the trails around Cerro Nara looking for Costus and the afternoons and evenings sitting on the balcony of the lodge watching the sun set over the Pacific and the lights of the settlements below.  Except for my trips down the lane to get my meals at Marielo’s house, I was there by myself and enjoying the solitude.



As for the plants, there was a beautiful specimen of Costus glaucus growing right in front of the lodge….

Costus_glaucus-CerroNara-01 Costus_glaucus-CerroNara-02

and a nice form of Costus scaber growing behind the lodge with longer, showier flowers than I have normally seen.


Parque Nacional Tapantí

Thursday, May 4th, 2006

The next morning I went to the Tapantí National Park to begin my search in earnest for Costus barbatus.  One of the INBio records indicated a collection along the trail Arboles Caidos, so that is where I headed first.


Along that trail I saw lots of Costus curvibracteatus, but nothing I could identify as C. barbatus.  It is certainly possible that I missed it, but I think it is more likely that someone incorrectly identified the former. The two species are superficially similar in appearance and C. curvibracteautus was not even described and named until 1976, so would not have been readily available in the literature.

Nonetheless, it was exciting for me to find this species because I had never seen it before even in cultivation – much less in the wild.  And there is further confusion that was created by yet another error in identification of the cultivated species that are popular in the gardens of the USA.  The species you will usually see in botanical gardens under the name Costus curvibracteatus is actually a Peruvian species – Costus productus.  It has been my mission to try to get these incorrect identifications corrected wherever possible.

 Other species I saw at Tapantí included C. pulverulentus and another plant that I am unsure of the identification, could be C. guanaiensis or possibly C. allenii or maybe something altogether new.


I did take some video of the trails, the river, and waterfall at Tapantí, in case anyone wants to catch the general “flavor” of the park.



The search begins for Costus barbatus

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006

My second trip to Costa Rica had a very specific objective – to find the “real” Costus barbatus.  In the intervening year I had learned that the plant commonly cultivated in the USA under that name had been incorrectly identified many years prior, and was actually the species Costus comosus.  The REAL C. barbatus differs in several ways as explained HERE.  The original “type” specimen came from what is now an urbanized area in eastern San Jose, so I checked all the INBio records of collections recorded for the species and this trip I decided to chase down those locations to look for that species.  Looking back in my file for that trip I can still find my handwritten notes where I decided to go to the Tapantí National Park, the Orosi Valley area near the village of Muñéco and the Pacific coastal range including Cerro Nara – all places where collections of Costus barbatus have been recorded.

I arrived in San José at night and stayed in a small hotel recommended by the guide books, near where the bus departs for the town of Cartago.   I did not want to be burdened with a car rental – driving in a different country where I did not know the language did not seem like a good idea.   So my travel to all these places was to be by bus, and as I learned, this is not always so easy.  I had researched all the bus routes and had roughly figured out my itinerary, and made plans in advance as follows:

  1. Bus from San Jose to Cartago
  2. Bus from Cartago to Paraíso (with drop off at Lankester Gardens)
  3. Bus from Lankester (pick up along road) to Orosi where I would stay 4 days
  4. Bus from Orosi back to San Jose
  5. Bus from San Jose to Santiago de Puriscal (also known as simply Puriscal)
  6. Bus from Puriscal to Rancho Mastatal (stay 4 days)
  7. Bus from Rancho Mastatal to main road between Puriscal and Parríta
  8. Flag down the bus along the road from Puriscal to Quepos
  9. Bus from Quepos to village of Londres
  10. Somehow from there up to Cerro Nara 4 days (turned out to be horseback)
  11. Bus from Londres back to Quepos
  12. Bus from Quepos to Manuel Antonio National Park (day visit)
  13. Bus from Manuel Antonio back to Quepos
  14. Bus from Quepos back to San Jose.

Sound complicated?  IT WAS!  There are many hundreds of different bus companies with everything from the big air conditioned international bus routes, express routes, stop-wherever-you-want routes to the old school buses or “chicken buses”, as well as the “collectivos” where somebody with a van and no set schedule just drives around picking people up and dropping them off as needed.  What I was to find out is that the  bus drivers (in most cases) really do not care to help out some dumb gringo who does not know where to get off.  I learned that the best bet is to ask another campesino passenger for help.

CartagoBus TypicalBus
When I was making these plans in 2006 there was a man in Costa Rica named John Wood who had prepared an E-Book on the bus schedules and pick-up locations.  He seemed to keep up to date on the frequent changes in companies who handled the routes between various towns and was very helpful, available by email to answer questions.   His E-book, Costa Rica by Bus: The Insider’s Guide to Budget Travel, is available at Amazon.com.  I am not sure if he is still doing this.