Dave Looks for Plants

Journal of a plant explorer

Posts Tagged ‘Costus zamoranus’

Tundayme and El Oso Road

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

The next day we went back to the Cordillera del Condor, to the northeast of El Pangui in an area called Tundayme.  The road goes far back into the cordillera where a Chinese company has been mining for gold and copper under an Ecuadorian government permit.  This warning sign was found several places along the road indicating that the Shuar people are not all that happy having this mining activity in their native lands.



Translation:  Cascomi collective ownership. The person or company entering or doing damage to this property will be criminally prosecuted or subjected to the indigenous justice.

The Shuar have come a long way from their “shrunken head” past.  This community has a Facebook page at (Cascomi Comunidad Cordillera Del Cóndor Mirador) that includes many photos of their peaceful protests against the miners and the government, but the veiled threat is there none the less.


 So at any rate, we made sure we stayed along the road and did not venture too far into the forests there.  We did see many beautiful Costus plants, including Costus amazonicus…..


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and Costus zamoranus,  in both a basal and terminal flowering form – all between 1000 and 1200 meters.

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Details of these plants are on this THUMBNAIL SHEET.  The differences between the two species were sometimes difficult to discern, but the clear C. amazonicus plants have broad, hairy, somewhat plicate leaves and the bract margins are distinctively fibrous.  The C. aff. zamoranus have narrower leaves, either glabrous or nearly so, and the bract margins are entire.  I suspect there is a good deal of natural hybridization going on between the two.

From Tundayme, we drove back to El Pangui for lunch then drove to the west along the El Oso Road.  I had been there before in 2009 with Carla, Angel and Bruce, but we did not stop to walk back into the few forested fragments that remain in the area.   This trip we did stop and sure enough, back under the heavy shade of forest we found more of the Costus zamoranus at 1300 meters. 


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Cord. del Condor – Rio Numbaime & El Zarza

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

We drove north of Zamora to the town of Los Encuentros, then across the Rio Zamora and into the Cord. del Condor area to the east.  Marco had told me he found his original ‘Marco’s Pride’ plant along the Rio Numbaime and I wanted to see it in habitat and see what else might be there.  Most of this area is at low elevation 800-900 meters but the tepui of the cordillero could be seen in the distance.  A trail follows the Rio Numbaime up to a waterfall.


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We did not see ‘Marco’s Pride’ there, but along this trail we saw several plants of Costus amazonicus and another plant that looked like it could be Costus zamoranus.  The former was terminal flowering and had the characteristic fibrous margins to the bracts.  The latter was a basal flowering plant that had the same kind of “detrius” covering as the plants we had seen in Nangaritza.

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Costus aff. zamoranus
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From there we took a different road to higher elevations and found more Costus amazonicus and the pubescent form of Costus laevis, similar to what we had found in the Podocarpus area.  One plant found at 1300 meters appeared to be a natural hybrid of the two – a plant we were calling Costus ‘Reina Rosada’.



Reserva Maycu and Shaime Village

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

This day we drove back past Las Orquídeas the north to go to the Reserva Maycu and the Shuar village of Shaime. The last time I was in this area was in 2009, and the only way to get a car across the river to the east side was by ferry.  That year we were staying at the Yankuam Lodge, took a boat across from there and walked on up the road a couple of kilometers.


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Now there is a new bridge at the same location.  It is adorned with a beautiful statue at the top recognizing the Shuar heritage of the region.  A multi-lingual sign at the site tells the Shuar legend of the bearded men with big eyes who came seeking the golden chair of Arutam.


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There is also a protected area a few km to the east of the bridge called Reserva Maycu where there is still good primary forest right along the road.  Here we found many more plants of the same form of Costus aff. zamoranus we had seen near Las Orquídeas.   Here the plants were growing in sticky grey shale clay, and all the inflorescences were covered with detrius that was apparently cultivated there by the omnipresent ants.  The flowers were similar to those from the type location at Valladolid, but the bracts have a distinctive red margin and a dark red nectar callus.  More photos of the details of this form can be found on my THUMBNAIL SHEET.


 We followed the road as it winds back to the river to the north and then went back across by boat to the Shaime village.  Someone there had reported a blue flowered Costus, but we could not find her to ask about it and we ultimately concluded that it must have been one of the Costus amazonicus plants with a deeper purplish color.  We walked through some small remnant forest areas but most of the area around the village has been deforested and made into pasture land.



Back across the river we saw several non-flowering plants that are most likely the yellow flowering form of Dimerocostus strobilaceus subsp. strobilaceus, the same as what is cultivated and growing in front of the Yankuam Lodge (photo below).



 From there we headed back to Zamora but there was one piece of unfinished business.  Along the entrance road among all the thousands of plants of the white flowered Costus aff. guanaiensis, Marco Jr. had spotted a pure pink flowered plant along the road as we sped by.  On our way back out of the area we were looking for that plant and had decided in advance it should be named Costus ‘Pink Floyd’.  Marco Sr. had told how in his younger days he was a  fan of the rock group but after he got married all his albums disappeared and were replaced by more traditional Ecuadorian music and religious music.

Sure enough, just as we were about to reach the road construction and leave the Nangaritza watershed, there it was.   If successfully propagated, this will be registered  with the cultivar name ‘Pink Floyd’.   There was some Costus amazonicus growing just across the road and I am thinking this is probably a hybrid with that species.  More photos on the THUMBNAIL PAGE.



As mentioned earlier, this area is booming and they are improving the old gravel road by widening it and replacing with a modern concrete roadway.  We were delayed by an hour and a half as the road was closed for the construction until 5 PM that afternoon.


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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.



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.



 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.

Rio Numbala

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

Marco has lived in Zamora Chinchipe all his life and has been trekking through the forests and jungles there for over 25 years with a serious interest in the plants of the region.  Much like me, he is not formally trained as a botanist but he probably knows more about the plants of the region and their habitats and locations than just about anyone else alive.  He is now retired from a career as a public school administrator.  His son told me his job was to “make sure the teachers were working”.

Marco, Jr. has followed in his father’s footsteps with his interest in plants.  They co-authored the first volume of Las Orquídeas de Zamora Chinchipe – a beautiful volume of photos of orchids from the region with their descriptions.  The book has an old photo of Marco as a young boy going with his father to look for plants.  He studied in the UK a few years ago as an exchange student and is now starting his 4th year at the university in Loja where he is studying environmental engineering.

Our plan for the day was to cross the river from Palanda to the east and travel over a ridge to check out the Rio Numbala – one of the main tributaries leading into the Mayo River complex.  I should warn you ahead of time that these names are going to be confusing, with three different “numb” rivers.  Rio Numbala today, then Rio Numbami, then later Rio Numbaime – at least I am hoping I now have all the names straight.

We parked the truck at the river and then followed a trail to a small creek where we found this.



A beautiful full flowering plant of Costus zamoranus.  If you are interested in seeing more photos of the C. zamoranus we found here, check  out my THUMBNAIL SHEET.  By then we had a good understanding of this species in its variable flower and bract colors and the deeply shaded habitat, usually growing in soil based in coarse sand.  It was only found in the northern part of the region which is more humid than the area to the south around Zumba and the Peruvian border.

The only other species of Costaceae we found there was the same Costus aff. claviger.  As in most of the region, there were only a few patches of forest remaining, and the Costus zamoranus I was seeking was only found in those relatively undisturbed areas.  I will be updating my Red List assessment of this species, and it may be upgraded (or downgraded, I should say) from “vulnerable” status to a more endangered status.

Would you use this bridge?

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After leaving the Rio Numbala, we drove back north to Loja and then over the mountains and back to Marco’s home town of Zamora, the capital of the province.  One of his relatives owns the modern Hotel Samuria there, the nicest place in town with AC and flat screen TV – a bargain at $30 per night.

The town of Zamora and most of the province seems to really be bustling since I was last there in 2009.  It is my favorite place in Ecuador.  Don’t believe the guide books that say it is uncomfortably hot there.  I have been there three trips now and although it is warmer than the high Andes tourist areas, it is not bad at all as it is situated between the mountains.  I have always found the people there to be very friendly, although my first trip in 2007 they seemed a little shy about foreigners.  It seems to be coming more and more a tourist destination with the Podocarpus National Park being the main attraction.

The most famous landmark there is the giant clock on the hillside overlooking the bus terminal.  It is an actual functioning clock and is lit up at night.  Photos below taken the next morning from a hotel window.




 For the next several days our adventures would take us to a variety of habitats from the mountains around Zamora to the Rio Nangaritza and Cordillera del Condor.  Here is a map showing several of these places we went.





Costus zamoranus found

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

Before I even started this trip I had researched as much as possible the original collection of Costus zamoranus on October 14, 1943 by Julian Steyermark – three years before I was born.  The collection note said it was found along the Rio Valladolid at Tambo Valladolid, giving an altitude of 2000 meters. According to Mirriam-Webster.com, a tambo is “an Inca inn or way station on the highroads of ancient Peru“. 

Even today there is not much more than that at Valladolid. 


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The collection itself was noted as being “sterile”, meaning without flowers, and no doubt in the October dry season it would have had no flowers.

It was not until twenty years later that Steyermark formally described this species by publishing it in Phytologia. 9: 339.


So I had used Google Earth to check this location and from the satellite images I could see that most of the area was deforested but there was a small patch of forest across the river from the village.



The next morning we crossed the river and worked our way into the forest patch – and this is what we found!



For those who may be interested in seeing more photos including all the details of the flower parts, I have prepared a thumbnail sheet on my main website.  Here is a photo of the type location – the small forest patch across the river.



So the next question… is this the last of this species or can we find more?  We headed back through town and crossed the river again taking the narrow road toward the community of Tapala.  The road goes through the mountains east of Valladolid and although most of the area is deforested, there were still a few small forest fragments along the road.  Here is a view of the area.



A few km down the road and we did find more Costus zamoranus.  We also found a few plants that were flowering terminally instead of at the base, but otherwise nearly identical to the basal flowering plant found at the type local in Valladolid.  This is a travel blog, so I won’t bore some readers here with all the details of these plants, but for those who are interested, you can find the links to thumbnail sheets of images and descriptions on my main website at http://www.gingersrus.com/DataSheet.php?PID=4602 . Also along this road toward Tapala we found several plants belonging to the Costus aff. claviger group as described by Paul Maas in his 1977 update to his monograph.  These plants are distinguished from the C. zamoranus by having terminal flowers and appendaged bracts as explained further on my website at http://www.gingersrus.com/DataSheet.php?PID=4047 .

Here is Marco Jr. photographing a Costus aff. claviger next to a Costus zamoranus plant.



We returned to Valladolid for lunch then headed on south to the town of Palanda.  Here is a map of the Mayo Chinchipe region.  It does not show all the small roads, and some that appear to be paved highways on this map are really just one-lane rocky or muddy trails.  Ecuador does have a pretty good road system by Latin American standards and they are in the process of paving the main road all the way south to the Peruvian border.



 Near Palanda we took one of these small roads to the west and saw hundreds of Costus aff. claviger plants, but no more Costus zamoranus.  By then it was clear to us that this species can only be found in deep shade of the forest understory.  With all the deforestation in the region, it seemed clear that it was deserving of at least the “vulnerable” status as I had assessed that species on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species.


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There were also some interesting Heliconia species found along that road, but the only Costus we found was C. aff. claviger in variable colors of the flowers and shapes of the bracts.

Some of the Costus aff. claviger plants we saw had the same narrow triangular bracts as the form I had seen in 2007 in Marco’s garden, and have registered with the cultivar name Costus ‘Marco’s Pride’.



We stayed that night in a nice little hotel located on the main square of Palanda. Here is a view of the town from the road we took.



It was a satisfying day.  My primary objective of the trip (to find Costus zamoranus) had already been achieved!