Dave Looks for Plants

Journal of a plant explorer

Posts Tagged ‘Costus geothyrsus’

Pasagua Road & Hacienda Clementina

Sunday, March 1st, 2015

The next morning René suggested we try some higher elevations and take the old Guaranda road toward Pasagua.  This road climbs to about 1000 meters before it descends to the village of Pasagua.


Along the road we saw many more plants of the white flowered Costus guanaiensis var. tarmicus.  Then at about 800 meters we saw one of the most beautiful examples of Costus lima that I have ever seen with larger than normal flowers.  DETAILS ON THUMBNAIL SHEET HERE


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There were also several plants seen of Costus pulverulentus – a very common species along the western slopes of the Andes foothills and the plains below.  This made it clear to me that Costus geothrysus is distinctly different from its closest described species, both in flower form and vegetatively.  The C. pulverulentus here has a distinct nectar callus and does not have the broad plicate leaves.


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Then we drove back down through Caluma and took another road that passes through the town of El Mirador – which is not really a “mirador” at all.  René told me the town was named after a family with that surname.  This is on the south side of Cerro Semamana and the entire area was deforested and planted with cacao and bananas.


Along a small creek, just east of El Mirador, we found a yellow flowering form of Costus guanaiensis var. tarmicus.  DETAILS ON THUMBNAIL SHEET HERE


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 Eventually we came to another guard station for the Hacienda Clementina and René was able to talk the guards into allowing us to walk down the road that leads to the Hacienda – all virtually flat land at an elevation of 100 meters or less.  This area also was mostly deforested but there were a couple of patches of “jungle-like” secondary growth forest so I went in and investigated.   There were also several rows of cultivated teak trees and overgrown brush.   Not a single Costus plant was found in that entire area.

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Here is the view of Cerro Semama looking to the west from where we were in the Hacienda Clementina.  There was no trail or entrance – at least nothing that René knew about – to get us into that good forest in the reserve.


We returned to the Hosteria and I walked around the gardens there, talking with the proprietor, Nelson Jimenez.  There was only one Costus plant and it was not in flower, but to my astonishment it looked like the same one with plicate leaves that I had seen in the reserve and was in Dr. Stahl’s photo – the sought after species Costus geothyrsus!




Somehow it seems fitting that I would end my time in Caluma finding the plant I was seeking right there at the place I was staying.  (Like Dorothy at the end of the Wizard of Oz?).   Anyhow, the next morning I took the bus back to Quito, then my flight home the following day.  This had been one of my best trips ever. 

I had gone with a specific goal to find two rare and relatively unknown species of Costus and I had succeeded in finding them both albeit one of them not in flower.  I had learned much more about their habitats and distribution giving me valuable information to update my IUCN Red List assessments.  I had learned more about the eastern Andes form of Costus laevis and developed a new theory on that species.  And most of all I had made some new friends and solidified other friendships in Ecuador, which has become one of my favorite countries to visit.

Reserva Cerro Semama

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

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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