Dave Looks for Plants

Journal of a plant explorer

Posts Tagged ‘Costus pulverulentus’

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Friday, July 8th, 2005


The next day we worked our way back south to Puerto Jimenez with some side trips along the way to look for Costus. We went to a place in the lowlands along the Rio Barrigones where I found lots of Costus lima all along the river.  Someone had been busy with a machete.

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In closer to town we saw a dwarf form of Costus pulverulentus, very different from the compact ones I have seen in Panama and Colombia.  Once back home, Catherine and Reinaldo sorted through the plants that he had collected and Reinaldo showed his son Nilo a stick insect they had found.

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Ten years later, and you will see a much older Nilo on Reinaldo’s Facebook pages, still learning about plants and nature from his father.


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.

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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.  

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 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.

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