Dave Looks for Plants

Journal of a plant explorer

Posts Tagged ‘Costus guanaiensis var. tarmicus’

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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On to Caluma

Friday, February 27th, 2015

This bus trip was like so many others I have taken – CONFUSING! – thanks mostly to my poor Spanish comprehension.  The bus company (Cooperativa Loja Internacional) called it a “directo” from Zamora to Guayaquil so I was confused when we arrived at the disembarking area in Loja and I was told to get off the bus. My luggage was still stored in the compartment under the bus.

“¿Mi equipaje?”    “¡No se preocupe!  Vamos en veinte cinco minutos

To my relief, a half hour later the same bus with the same driver and the same attendant pulled up to the Loja boarding area and took us on to Guayaquil.    It was 4 AM when we arrived in Guayaquil and the huge Terminal Tereste there was nearly empty, but I finally found the Transporte Caluma ticket window and there was a bus leaving for Caluma in 5 minutes.  After some more confusion (this place is huge) I finally found the right gate, got on the bus with my luggage and we were on our way a couple of minutes later.

My reason for going to Caluma was to look for the critically endangered species Costus geothyrsus.    Last year I had completed  an IUCN Red List assessment based mainly on data I received from the Swedish botanist, Dr. Bertil Stahl.  This species is only known to exist in the protected area around Cerro Semama and the only photo I had ever seen was one provided by Dr. Stahl.  The reserve at Cerro Semama is currently closed to research, but I planned to try to get permission to enter there, and to look in any remaining forest fragments in the area.



Upon arrival in Caluma I found a decent looking restuarant, had breakfast, and then took a taxi to the Hosteria Madera Fina, which is about 2 km outside the town on the old road to Guaranda.  Dr.  Stahl  had recommended this place to stay and also recommended René Vargas who works there as a guide in the region.  René was working at the front desk when I arrived and he was expecting me.  A quick change of clothes and boots, luggage in room, and then a conference with René who seemed eager to go.  And why not?  I only had 3 days there and despite the all night bus ride I wanted to make the most of my time there.

So I explained to René why I was there, showed him photos of the plants I was looking for and asked if we needed to rent a cuatro por cuatro.  No, he said we can use his vehicle.  This turned out to be a 1970’s Datsun pickup with a tent on the back and brakes that needed to be pumped a couple of times to stop.  We went into town for him to change clothes, get his boots, and feed the pigs and chickens at a nearby “friends” house.   Eventually, off we went looking for a little patch of remnant forest where I might find the plants I was looking for. 



After a few dead ends and multiple explanations of what a forest looks like, he finally took me to his father’s banana farm where a few nice forest patches are maintained to provide purer water supply.  The first Costus I saw there I recognized at once as Costus laevis even before I found it in flower.  Here it was typical of the forms found in Central America and west of the Andes in South America – but completely unlike the Costus laevis forms I had seen a few days earlier in Zamora Chinchipe. DETAILED THUMBNAIL SHEET HERE


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 There were three or four separate forest remnants like this, all in the midst of a large banana farm at about 400 meters elevation, between Caluma and the village of Las Esmeraldas.  I was beginning to understand how hard it was going to be to find forest in this region so I thoroughly checked out all of them here.  The only other Costus I found here was a white flowering form of Costus guanaiensis var. tarmicus, which turned out to be the most common Costus in the region.  DETAILED THUMBNAIL SHEET HERE


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From there René tried to take me to several other nearby forest fragments he knew of, but it had been raining all morning and either the streams we had to cross were too high or his little Datsun was unable to handle the road. 

Here are some photos taken from along the road near René’s fathers farm.  Below is the wide flat plain looking towards the Hacienda Clementina at 100 meters or less.


And this is looking up to the northwest at the lower parts of the Cerro Semama which rises to about 800 meters.


René’s wife had invited me to have lunch with them so we went back to town and had fried duck with the usual rice, beans and great Ecuadorian soup.  After lunch René said he knew of another place nearby so we loaded up the Datsun with his wife and mother-in-law in the front seat with him, and me in the back “tent”with his two kids and his niece.  The “other place” was the same place we had gone to feed the pigs in the morning.  By then I had pretty much given up on the idea of finding more forest and more Costus, so I just enjoyed the rest of the day with René and his family.




And I teased René about his “hermano” and “hermanas“…
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As it turned out, there was no decent forest nearby and I did not see any more Costus that day, but I really did have an enjoyable time there.    René told me he would be able to get a “tourist permit” to get us into the Reserva Semama the next day, so I was satisfied to just call it a day.  I was exhausted after the all night bus trip and really wanted to get back to the Hosteria to get some sleep.