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

Gingersrus Database Taxon ID 3074

Costus barbatus

OLD NAME: Costus barbatus

NEW NAME: Costus barbatus


FULL SCIENTIFIC NAME: Costus barbatus Suess.

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.)


Costus barbatus is an accepted neotropical species of Costus, described in 1942 by Karl Suessenguth in the Neue Pflanzen aus Costa Rica [Bot. Jahrb. Syst. 72: 270-302.]. It is characterized by having variably puberulous vegetative parts but especially densely villose petioles. Also the corolla is described as being rather densely puberulous - not often found in Costus. The bracts are red with acute apex and sometimes reflexed with fibrous margins and callus absent or inconspicuous. The species is endemic to the central valley area of San Jose, Costa Rica where it flowers in the dry season or the rainy season.

For several years I searched for Costus barbatus at various localities in Costa Rica where it had been recorded, but each time it turned out to be a different, similar but more recently published species, such as Costus ricus or Costus curvibracteatus or Costus montanus that had not as yet been published when the collection was made. The type locality of the species is in an area that is now urbanized in San Jose, Costa Rica with no natural forests. I was not able to find any published photos of the true Costus barbatus, and there was only a dried herbarium specimen and hand-drawn illustrations in the Maas monographs to show what the species looked like.

I had already figured out that the plant that was often found in cultivation under that name was not really Costus barbatus but was Costus comosus - an entirely different species. Exactly how that identification error ocurred, I do not know.

I finally found the true species Costus barbatus in 2011 and published an article in the Heliconia Society International quarterly Bulletin, Vol. 17, No. 4, December 2011 , beginning on page 11, entitled "Will the Real Costus Barbatus Please Stand Up". The photos at the link above include some that were taken in habitat.

In 2014 I completed an IUCN Red List assessment for this species and it is now classified as Critically Endangered. My assessment can be found at

In 2016 I visited a site near the village of Muńeco, Costa Rica, and found a second population of this species, growing and thriving along a remote gravel road at 1440 meters. I also revisited Lankester Gardens in 2016 and found an untended area in the back (not in the public display areas) where there was a large population of Costus barbatus mixed in with some Costus montanus plants. It is an wet area near the back wall of the gardens. Bruce Dunstan has sent me some photos he took there prior to 2008 when he visited Lankester Gardens.

Leaf tissue has been sampled from both the San Jose and Muńeco collections of this species, and was included in a molecular phylogeny at Cornell University. The species was found to be very close to Costus montanus.

Based on information at the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) this species is in ex situ cultivation at 29 botanical gardens world wide. These are almost certainly based on the incorrect identification of the horticultural Costus comosus that is very common in cultivation. I have found the true species to be relatively easy to grow in my garden and greenhouses at Le Jardín Ombrage.

NOTE: The plant commonly found in horticulture under the name Costus barbatus is NOT REALLY COSTUS BARBATUS. It has been determined to be Costus comosus. A description and photos of this plant have been transferred toPID #7586.

ACCESSIONS:Click links (if any) to see details of individual collections. R3213- R3368- R3369-

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Photos (if available) of Taxon ID 3074
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Costus barbatus type specimen - Click to see full sized image
Photo# 461 Accession# R0
Costus barbatus type specimen

Costus barbatus, photo from Skinner R3213, San Jose, Costa Rica - Click to see full sized image
Photo# 166 Accession# R3213
Costus barbatus, photo from Skinner R3213, San Jose, Costa Rica

Costus barbatus, photo from Skinner R3213, San Jose, Costa Rica - Click to see full sized image
Photo# 167 Accession# R3213
Costus barbatus, photo from Skinner R3213, San Jose, Costa Rica