This page contains photos and description of a species, form or cultivar of Costaceae.

Gingersrus Database Taxon ID 2372

Costus spiralis

OLD NAME: Costus spiralis

NEW NAME: Costus spiralis


FULL SCIENTIFIC NAME: Costus spiralis (Jacq.)

STATUS : accepted

CONTINENT: Neotropical

FIELD OBSERVATIONS:(If field observations are available, you can click on the link to open in a new window.)

PHOTOS:(If photos are available, you can click on the link to open in a new window.)

- Alpinia spiralis Jacq. (1797) - Costus spiralis (Jacq.) Roscoe a jacquinii Griseb. (1864) - Costus spiralis (Jacq.) Roscoe ? roscoei Griseb. (1864) - Costus pisonis Lindley (1825) - Costus spiralis var. villosus Maas (1972)


Costus spiralis is an accepted species of neotropical Costus that was first mentioned as early as 1648 and first described in Selectarum stirpium Americanarum as Alpinia spiralis by Jacquin in 1797 from a plant collected near Caracas, Venezuela. . Dr. Maas has selected as the type an illustration (photo left) in Table 1 of Selectarum stirpium Americanarum because the original collection was destroyed in the Vienna Herbarium in 1943. In his 1972 monograph Dr. Maas described a separate variety villosus, but has now decided to unite the two varieties.

Costus spiralis is distributed throughout tropical South America in areas east of the Andes from Colombia to southeastern Brazil. It can be found in flower all year round.

Costus spiralis is superficially similar to Costus scaber, with red non-appendaged bracts and red tubular-type flowers with closed labellums. It is formally distinguished from other similar species by the coriaceous texture of the bracts and the lengths of the bracteoles and calyx. When seen in flower, C. spiralis is also readily distinguished from similar species by the adaxial (inward pointing) or erect orientation of the flowers with respect to the bracts. It is usually found flowering at the top of a leafy stem, but I have seen some populations flowering at the base on a separate, leafless shoot. Both forms were growing at Cristalino in Mato Groso, Brazil, as shown on my thumbnail sheet here:

As Dr. Maas pointed out, this species is often found growing on granitic rocky outcrops and boulders. I saw that myself in two cases, at Cristalino, Mato Grosso, Brazil and at Iwokrama in Guyana. There is a place at Cristalino called the "secret garden" which is a large, open, rocky area, and Costus spiralis has virtually colonized the area. I was told by a guide that one year a frog researcher was investigating where the frogs went during the dry season. They dug deep under the boulders and found the frogs hiding there and also the thick roots of Costus spiralis extending meters into the soil under the boulders.

Maas compared C. spiralis, C. scaber and C. spicatus in a chart in his 1972 monograph, reproduced here in a table on a separate page at .

Another species that has caused some confusion with Costus spiralis is the recently described Costus atlanticus. C. atlanticus is a very popular cultivated plant in Brazil, and we long believed it to merely be either a different form or a hybrid of Costus spiralis with Costus arabicus producing pink flowers that have a more open labellum than the "normal" C. spiralis.

A preliminary phylogeny was completed by Eugenio Valderrama and his associates in the Chelsea Specht Lab at Cornell University and was published in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science in September 2022. Five samples of C. spiralis were included in the molecular phylogeny and were found to be tightly clustered in a separate clade from other species. Incidently the purported cultivated hybrid (now C. atlanticus) turned out to be in a lineage closer to C. arabicus than C. spiralis, so it is not likely to be a form of this species although it LOOKS more like spiralis than arabicus.

Based on information at the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) this species is in ex situ cultivation at 28 botanical gardens world wide. Some of these records may be for the Costus atlanticus form which is often listed under C. spiralis. I have found this species to be relatively easy to grow in my garden and greenhouses at Le Jardín Ombrage.

ACCESSIONS:Click links (if any) to see details of individual collections. R1756- R2932- R3016- R3128- R3175- R3218- R3234- R3252- R3302-

Copyright © 1999-2023 - Dave Skinner,
All text and images on this page are copyrighted. They may be downloaded and/or printed for personal use and scientific research, but may not be published in paper or electronic media without my express consent. They absolutely may not be used commercially in any way whatsoever without my express consent. To inquire about permissions, contact

Photos (if available) of Taxon ID 2372
Click on a thumbnail to load full sized image.
Use your "back" button to come back to this page.

Costus spiralis type specimen - Click to see full sized image
Photo# 531 Accession# R0
Costus spiralis type specimen

Costus spiralis, photo from Skinner R3218,  Guyana - Click to see full sized image
Photo# 309 Accession# R3218
Costus spiralis, photo from Skinner R3218, Guyana