Dave Looks for Plants

Journal of a plant explorer

Posts Tagged ‘Costus laevis’

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


IMG_3257  IMG_3259 IMG_3260 IMG_3262

 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


R3344-05 R3344-02 R3344-01

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“…
IMG_3293small IMG_3294small

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. 


The plants at La Cangreja

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

When I returned to Rancho Mastatal and the Parque Nacional La Cangreja, I did see many more Costus plants in flower, as expected.  There was lots of Costus laevis as well as others including Costus villosissimus, Costus glaucus, Costus pulverulentus, Costus guanaiensis, and Costus scaber.  Below is the C. guanaiensis form seen along the road a short distance from Rancho Mastatal.

Costus_guanaiensis-Mastatal-06r Costus_guanaiensis-Mastatal-09r

One day Chepo and I took the long, strenuous hike to the summit of Cerro Cangrejo.  Along the trail to the top the only Costus I saw was C. pulverulentus but the view was fabulous, with the rainforest of the National Park in the foreground and the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

Cerr Cangreja-04r
Across the road and down a little way from Rancho Mastatal is a property owned by a man named Leo who agreed to show me around.  Leo was convinced that I was there like most tourists to see the animals such as pecaries……


and monkeys.


There was an unusual looking form of Costus laevis at Leo’s place, with predominantly orange flowers instead of red.

Costus_laevis_Orange-Leos-03r Costus_laevis_Orange-Leos-02r

The form of C. pulverulentus found at Leo’s place was very hairy whereas others in the area were nearly totally glabrous.  This exemplifies the fact that the indument (hairiness) on Costus spp. tends to be variable within a species.


My second adventure concludes

Wednesday, May 17th, 2006

The next day I took the express bus back from Quepos to San Jose and thus ended my second adventure in Costa Rica.  I had searched for Costus barbatus and although I had not found it I had checked out several potential locations and I had seen several other Costus that I had not seen before that trip in flower and in the wild.  My plant list for this trip is not quite as long as the first trip to the Osa, but a good list none the less.

Click on the links to go to the plant datasheets on these plants and see more photos and information on the Gingers R Us website.


Parque Nacional La Cangreja

Monday, May 8th, 2006

Rancho Mastatal is located on the edge of the Cangreja National Park, one of the newest and least well known in the Costa Rican park system.  The province of Puriscal is pretty much deforested and settled, leaving this as one of the last islands of primary forest.  A beautiful creek (Quebrada Grande) runs through the park and there is a peak called Cerro La Cangreja at 1,305 meters in altitude.

La cangreja is Spanish for the crab, and I had heard several different things about the origin of the name for this place.  While looking for a URL to link on this page I found yet another explanation, translated here from the Spanish at http://areasyparques.com/areasprotegidas/parque-nacional-la-cangreja.

The Indian story tells of a large crab that lived on the mountain and prevented the passage of the locals towards the other villages, until one time a warrior fought him and managed to cut a leg unleashing his fury. Finding himself vanquished the crab decided to become stone; therefore, the top of the mountain is a rocky formation.

In the waters of the Quebrada Grande, I saw another possible reason for the name.


Tim (not wanting me to go by myself) arranged for Chepo,  a long-time local resident, to go with me through the park looking for my Costus.  As it turned out, it was a little too early in the season to find very many in flower, but I did see a number of species – enough so that I would want to return in just 3 months to catch them more into the rainy season.  In most of the Pacific coastal areas of Central America, the dry season runs from January to April and the rainy season begins late April or early May, continuing until November or December.  Something confusing to most of us “Norte Americanos” is that the word for summer, verano, is used for the hot, dry period of January to April.  Winter, invierno, occurs during the cooler rainy season — the North American summer.   I have learned that the peak flowering for most species of Costus is about 2-3 months into the rainy season. 

One species that is usually found in flower most any time of year is Costus laevis.


Here is a short film clip showing the area along Quebrada Grande in the park, with Chepo in the lead.


One very interesting plant was found along the road just a half kilometer or so from Rancho Mastatal.  It seems to be a natural hybrid of Costus villosissimus and Costus pulverulentus, both of which are common in the area.  I have since propagated it and registered it under the cultivar name Costus ‘Rancho Sunrise’.


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.

Exploring the Osa Peninsula

Thursday, July 7th, 2005

The next day’s plan was to go on a longer hike deep into the rain forest to Cerro Brujo (Witch Mountain).  Reinaldo was uncertain of the trails himself despite 15 years of exploring the peninsula, so we stopped at Rancho Quemado and picked up a friend of his named Carlos who knew the way.  Along the way we saw my first poisonous snake of the trip, an “eyelash pit viper”, sunning himself on a fallen tree.

EyelashViper - Carlos Trail

Eventually we came to a place that Reinaldo was looking for, where he had discovered a new tree species, of the genus Pleiodendron, family Canellaceae, that had previously been known only from Africa and South America.  A Costa Rican newspaper article in La Nación of March 2005 reported that only two of these trees had been found, one farther north of Quepos, and the other one that we were looking at that day.  Such is the nature of the Osa Peninsula which has a fantastic diversity of species and endemics.  Reinaldo proceeded with slingshot and twine to try to capture some fruits from the upper branches to send to Barry Hammel at INBio in Santo Domingo.

TREE - Pleiodendron sp. TREE - Pleiodendron sp.

As for Costus, mostly I saw the more common ones like C. pulverulentus and C. laevis, but there was also a thin stemmed, tightly spiraling form of Costus scaber that I have seen a few other times on the peninsula, and it seems to me to be a different variety of that very common species.

That night we stayed in a thatched roof hut with mattresses on the floor.  After that long strenuous hike I probably could have slept right on the hard ground.  The next morning we woke to the sound and sight of bats flying around over our heads.


Exploring the Osa Peninsula

Tuesday, July 5th, 2005

While at La Gamba I had met an Austrian botanist, Eva Schembera, who specialized in plants of the family Leguminosae.  She had a few days off and was going to be on the Osa Peninsula with nothing else to do, so I invited her to join Reinaldo and I looking for plants.  The next morning we had breakfast at the Restaurante Carolina, where we met her and one of Reinaldo’s friends, the well known local guide, Mike Boston, who I always think of as “Crocodile Mike“.

We were soon on our way, the three of us, Eva, Reinaldo and I. (Here is a short video clip). 


We headed north to the Reserva Forestal Golfo Dulce where we found Costus lasius, Costus ricus , Costus scaber and Costus stenophyllus. and a few other more common ones, Costus laevis and Costus pulverulentus.

That night we had dinner and stayed in a small hostal overlooking the Golfo Dulce near the village of Rincon.

View above Drake

Hiking Rio Bonito

Friday, July 1st, 2005

This was my first real experience alone in the rain forests of Costa Rica.  Thinking back, I was pretty foolish to be going alone, my first trip in the tropics, leaving the main trail, and wading up a remote river but this experience (and others on this trip) is what made me fall in love with the tropical rain forests.  The sights, the sounds, the smells – all come together to give me a strange euphoric feeling and keeps me coming back to the tropics again and again.

I shot some short video clips that day 10 years ago on my old digital camera.  The footage is shaky, the camera lens was fogged over at first and the overall quality is horrible, but this really gives the best rendition of the experiences and feelings I had that day. 

I have combined the clips and uploaded them to YouTube for convenience.  Click on the link  below to view the 3 1/2 minute video.

My first venture into the tropical jungle off the trails.\


The three Costus species I saw on that hike are listed below with hyperlinks to the datasheets at www.gingersrus.com.

Costus laevis, Costus osae, and Costus pulverulentus

Wilson Botanical Garden

Tuesday, June 28th, 2005

The next morning was my Sansa flight to a small airstrip near the Panama border known as “Coto 47”.  The aircraft was a small Cessna single engine and I was sitting behind the pilot and copilot.  As we descended, all I could see below was white as a low fog had completely covered the oil palms below.  As we got down just above the oil palms, the pilot and copilot stood up in their seats and stared intensely, obviously trying to see the runway through the fog.  They abandoned that approach and circled back around.  Again, they leaned forward trying to find the runway, then looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders….. and landed!  Good thing I am not a nervous flyer or my breakfast likely would have been on their backs.

I hired a taxi to take me to Wilson Botanical Gardens, which is a few km before San Vito.  Very nice facility, comfortable rooms, and by this time I had learned the Latin American customs for disposing of toilet paper and the so-called “suicide showers” for hot water.  

Wilson3r Wilson1r
 All in all though, Wilson Botanical Garden was a bit of a disappointment.  The 34 taxa of Costaceae I had read about on the internet were nowhere to be found. 

One evening during dinner I sat next to the former director there, Sr. Luis Diego Gómez.  Sr. Gómez explained to me that he had collected Costus with Dr. Paul Maas, many of which had been in the gardens there. He said that after Mr. Wilson died, Mrs. Wilson gave away most of the plants and the gardens fell in disrepair.  He said that some of them were taken to the USA by the famous Heliconia expert, Fred Berry.  I suppose that several of the plants that today are cultivated in our gardens here are clones propagated from the collections at Wilson Botanical Garden.

The only species I saw that seemed to be growing naturally in the area was Costus laevis.  In the gardens I did see a form of Costus guanaiensis and some Costus pulverulentus.  The only “new-to-me” species I saw there was Costus spiralis, which was growing right behind my cabin.

Wilson Botanic Garden Wilson Botanic Garden