Dave Looks for Plants

Journal of a plant explorer

Posts Tagged ‘Costus comosus’

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.

Cabo Matapalo

Saturday, July 9th, 2005

I stayed the night with Reinaldo and family, then Saturday morning we all drove down to the southern tip of the peninsula at Cabo Matapalo.  The owner of the El Remanso Lodge had told Reinaldo about an unusual Costus plant found there, so we went to take a look.  We trained a new Costus spotter on the way down and Reinaldo got some help with the driving.


At Cabo Matapalo we found that strange Costus, and for a long time I could not figure out what it was as it was growing only on the rocky bluffs leading right up to the edge of the Pacific Ocean.  I returned to the area in 2011 and I am now convinced that it is either a natural hybrid or simply an unusual form of Costus comosus that has solid green bract appendages instead of the more normal red.   I have since then given it the cultivar name Costus ‘Cliff Dweller’.

 Others seen in the area included Costus laevis, Costus pulverulentus, Costus lima, and Costus guanaiensis.

La Gamba

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

(No, this has nothing to do with the Ritchie Valens song – you are probably thinking of La Bamba.)

The “Tropenstation La Gamba” is a biological research station operated in cooperation with the University of Vienna, Austria.  The director is Werner Huber, and although I have never met him (he has not been there at the same time I have) we have corresponded by email and I have written three chapters in a book he will soon be publishing on the Zingiberales of the Golfo Dulce Region.

The rooms in the main cabin are quite comfortable and meals are provided.

The facility is located on the edge of the Piedras Blancas National Park, so there is plenty of good forest nearby with well maintained trails.  Also nearby is a more luxurious lodge, the Esquinas Rainforest Lodge, just a km or so down the road.

LaGamba04r LaGamba07r
There is a well maintained garden there with plants collected in the local area, including several species of Costaceae. I found Costus glaucus, Costus stenophyllus, Costus comosus, Dimerocostus strobilaceus, and Costus plicatus .  Here I am working away at photographing the details of C. plicatus.


During my stay there I walked all the marked trails as well as some that were not marked at all, as described in my next post “Hiking Rio Bonito”.