Dave Looks for Plants

Journal of a plant explorer

Posts Tagged ‘Costus laevis pubescent form’

The Old Loja Road and goodbye Zamora

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

My last day in Zamora Chinchipe we drove along the old Loja road that runs along the mountain slopes on the opposite side of the river from the new road.  There is a huge hydroelectric project under construction in this area, so there was lots of heavy equipment moving up and down the road.

Along this road we saw many more plants of the pubescent form of Costus laevis that I had first seen at the abandoned finca in Podocarpus National Park.  Some of them had especially beautiful flowers.

 

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 The road eventually climbs to 1600 meters where it joins the new Loja road.  The river at this point narrows in a canyon and becomes very deep and fast moving.

 

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We returned to Marco’s house to reflect on the thirteen days of searching Zamora Chinchipe for Costus.  We had learned a lot.  We found Costus zamoranus in its various forms throughout the province and learned that it only grows in shady forest understory.  The only other species found in the Mayo Chinchipe area is the terminal flowering Costus aff. claviger.

We learned that the species Costus laevis found in the areas east of the Andes (as with the type from Peru) is quite diverse and is completely different from the Costus laevis found in Central America and west of the Andes.  In Zamora Chinchipe there is the “Podocarpus” form with its huge inflorescences and glabrous parts.  At higher altitudes is a pubescent form.  In the lower Rio Zamora and Rio Yacuambi watersheds is the pendent ‘El Gato’ form.  And finally there is a plant with deep purple undersides to the leaves that is likelyto be yet another form.

We learned that Costus amazonicus is quite widespread in Zamora Chinchipe and apparently it hybridizes easily with other species.

We learned that the Costus aff. guanaiensis in the Nangaritza form has a very limited distribution, as we found it ONLY in the Nangaritza watershed.

And most of all we had solidified our friendship and committed to continue working together in the future.

 

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That evenening I took the night bus to Guayaquil and then on to Caluma in Bolívar Province for the final part of my trip, searching for the critically endangered Costus geothyrsus.

CLICK HERE FOR CONTINUATION OF ECUADOR 2015 TRAVEL BLOG
 

Rio Nangaritza

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

Early Sunday morning I checked out of Hotel Samuria and we went to the Rio Nangaritza region for two days.  My first trip to Ecuador in 2007 I had met Marco Sr. and we had taken the bus to the village of Guayzimi then walked to some forest areas nearby.   Then in 2009 I returned to the area with my friends Carla Black, her husband Angel Rodriquez and Bruce Dunstan.  That trip we met up with Marco and his son and stayed at the Yankuam Lodge, up river from Guayzimi.  So this was my third trip to the region.

 

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The Rio Nangaritza flows between the eastern foothills of the Andes and the famed Cordillero del Cóndor – whose ridge line forms the long disputed border with Peru.  The region has a tumultuous history, with the wars between competing indigenous groups (the Shuar are the dominant group) as well as the battles between Ecuador and Peru that did not end until the 1998 peace treaty that established the current border.   There is a wonderfully detailed description of the area including its history, geology and botanical expeditions on the Missouri Botanical Garden website at http://www.mobot.org/mobot/research/ecuador/cordillera/welcome.shtml.

 After driving over the first ridge from Zumbi and along the road in the Rio Nangaritza watershed, I saw a familiar sight.  This white flowered Costus is found all along the road and has colonized disturbed areas in the region.

 

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The plant has variable amounts of pink coloration on the labellums, some being nearly pure white.  Some plants are found mature and in flower less than 2 meters tall and others approach 3 1/2 to 4 meters tall.  It fits best as a form of Costus guanaiensis, but is unlike any I have seen elsewhere, and despite being extremely common in this area all the way up river as far as the new bridge near the Yankuam Lodge, I have never seen it outside this one area.  It is not found in the other parts of the greater Rio Zamora valley. 

The town of Guayzimi has changed dramatically since I was last there in 2009.  They have built a beautiful new fútbol stadium (even with artificial turf!) and the town seems to be bustling compared to the sleepy little place I saw my first two trips.  We had breakfast there, then took a road and trail up into the mountains to the west to about 1600 meters.   We saw several plants of Costus amazonicus and the pubescent form of Costus laevis at the higher elevations. 

Where the road ended and the trail began, there was a dragline stretching far across the valley and through the clouds to the mountains on the other side, apparently used to haul timber from the other side high above the trees to this point where the road could be used to haul the finished lumber.   Sad evidence that this pristine region will not remain so for many more years.

 

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Then later in the day we went to a small forest fragment near Las Orquídeas where we found a plant in deep shade that is similar to the Costus zamoranus seen earlier near Valladolid.

 

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 That night we stayed in the Hotel Ayamtaic, which was clean, comfortable and reasonable, with private bathrooms and wireless internet – an unexpected surprise for the small town of Guayzimi.

Quebrada Cuzuntza

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

On Saturday Marco Jr. had some university paperwork to do so Marco Sr. and I set out for Quebrada Cuzuntza, which is on the east side of the Rio Zamora, in the Parroquial de Cumbaratza.  We hiked up the Quebrada to an altitude of 1430 meters.  Along the way we saw several of the same Costus with the purple undersides to the leaves as we had seen along Quebrada Tunantza Alto, but none of them were in flower.

 

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We stood well out of the way while some fresh-cut lumber was being dragged down the quebrada.  Every year, more and more trees are cut down for their lumber, and there is loss of habitat for the rare plants of Zamora Chinchipe.  Marco was teaching me Spanish, and we were singing the following little song as we walked along the quebrada:

Cuando los agricultores talan los árboles, las orquídeas pierden sus casas y hay menos orquídeas para disfrutar.

 

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We continued on to an open area near the top where we had a nice view of the mountains and valley below and saw another fine example of the pubescent form of Costus laevis with the mostly yellow flowers.

 

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We returned to Marco’s house in time for lunch and walked around in his garden during the afternoon.  He has a fantastic collection of orchids and other plants, and also raises several species of sting-less bees.

 

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Marco also uses the Costus plants in his garden (sometimes adding other herbs) to make a “Costus Tea”.    The thick basal stems of any large Costus can be used, but he usually uses the Dimerocostus strobilaceus that is growing in his garden.  The stems are cut into lengths of about 6 inches, then quartered longitudinally, and boiled for about ten minutes, then allowed to steep overnight.  The taste is surprisingly mild and semi-sweet like other herbal teas, and is well known in Latin America as a medicinal drink to prevent or cure kidney stones.

 

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Rio Numbami

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

The next day we started out going to a nearby forested area just outside Zamora to the northwest.  There we found more of the Podocarpus form of Costus laevis at about 1100 meters, but there was not a lot of forest in the area, so we next headed for the higher altitude reserve area of Numbami Alto.

 

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In this area we found many more plants of the pubescent form of Costus laevis that we had seen at the deserted farm at Podocarpus.  This form seems to only be found at the higher altitudes (between 1200 and 1600 meters) whereas the Podocarpus form is found below 1200 meters.  The forms of the flowers and the hairiness of the leaves varies somewhat, but the plants are recognizable and distinguishable by the size of the inflorescence and the various flower parts – especially by the much smaller calyx and bracteole. 

The Podocarpus form…..

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And the pubescent form …..

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Here was a pubescent form found with pale yellow flowers.

 

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In his garden, Marco has a plant of the species Costus erythrophyllus which he collected locally many years ago, but he could not remember for sure exactly where.  Here is a photo I took of this plant during my 2007 visit in Marco’s garden – and one with flowers taken recently by Marco Jr.

 

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He thought it might have been at the nearby Quebrada Tunantza Alto, so we headed there next.  We did find a plant growing there that has purple backed leaves, but it is not the same plant as in Marco’s garden, and I don’t think it is C. erythrophyllus.  It was not in flower so I cannot say for sure but I think it more likely to be another form of C. laevis – possibly the pendent ‘El Gato’ form like the ones I saw in 2013 in Peru.

Here is the one seen at Quebrada Tunantza

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Podocarpus National Park

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

On Wednesday we went to the Parque Nacional Podocarpus, which has a north entrance along the Rio Bombusco a short distance from Zamora.  Along the entry road we spotted a huge (literally huge) surprise.  It was the same Costus form I had seen in the park in 2007 minus flowers and here it was in full bloom.   I had collected seeds in 2007, but that plant had not yet flowered for me, so I was not sure what species it was.  The general “look” of the plant made me think Costus laevis, and here it was confirmed.  But not like any other Costus laevis form I had ever seen.  Not even close to the plants found in Central America or the western side of the Andes in South America.

Typical Costus laevis flowers from Central America

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Form found at Podocarpus National Park

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First of all, this was the biggest inflorescence I had ever seen in a Costus.  The plant itself was also fairly large and the leaves as well.  But what really caught my attention was the fact that the upper leaves were gathered around the infloresence, partially sheathing it just like the pendent flowering Costus ‘El Gato’ I had seen from nearby Gualaquiza and other places on the eastern side of the Andes. 

Later on, examining the herbarium voucher specimen of the type for the species from Peru, I can see now that the leaves are covering the inflorescence in the same way.  This all leads me to conclude that the true species Costus laevis is of the form found on the eastern side of the Andes, and the plants in Central America and west of the Andes in South America should revert back to their original species names or possibly be renamed as a separate species.  They are simply too distinctly different to be lumped into the same bucket unless there is convincing DNA evidence to the contrary.

For those who may be interested in such things, a thumbnail sheet with all the details of the flower parts can be found on my website HERE .

After we reached the park and walked along the trails we saw several more of these plants, many of them in flower, so there could be no doubt about it.

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Marco said he remembered seeing yet another plant, different from this glabrous one, having very hairy leaves.  So we kept hiking uphill and off the trail to an abandoned finca where he remembered seeing it.  After bushwhacking our way through thick brush we finally found it.  And yes, this I would is yet  another form of that diverse species we humans call Costus laevis.  To see the full details of the plant and flowers go to my THUMBNAIL SHEET for this plant.  Aside from the hairy leaves this form has much smaller inflorescence, and a very short calyx and other parts making it clearly distinct from the Podocarpus form.

 

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We walked back along the long trail that follows the east side of the river but did not see any other Costus species, except for the ubiquitous Costus scaber, that is common throughout the region. 

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We did however see one very pretty pink bracted Heliconia before heading back to Zamora.

 

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