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

Gingersrus Database Taxon ID 3075

Costus pictus


OLD NAME: Costus pictus

NEW NAME: Costus pictus

NAME CHANGE NOTES: Current status of species, including various distinct forms.

FULL SCIENTIFIC NAME: Costus pictus D.Don

STATUS : accepted

CONTINENT: Neotropical

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

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

SYNONYMS:
- Costus mexicanus Liebm. ex Petersen (1893) - Costus congestus Rowlee (1922)

BOTANICAL NOTES:
Costus pictus is an accepted species of neotropical Costus that was first described and named by D. Don in 1833 in Edwards Botanical Record. The type is a botanical illustration (Plate 1594) of the cultivated plant in England - not a herbarium specimen. This cultivated plant was grown from seed in Boynton, England and has since been lost without a preserved specimen. In the description of the species in Edwards Botanical Register (1833) it is noted that the seeds were collected by “M. Deppe, a zealous Prussian Botanist”. In researching this species I found an article called Ferdinand Deppe's Travels in Mexico, 1824-1829 at https://www.jstor.org/stable/1364664 and determined this must be the “M. Deppe” who collected the Costus pictus seeds in Mexico. In reading Deppe's itinerary as listed in this publication, it is clear to me that the type collection was from the Atlantic side of Mexico in Veracruz as that was where Deppe spent most of his time in Mexico. There is no record of him traveling across the continent to the Pacific coastal area of Chiapas where the Pacific form of this species is found.

The reason this is of some importance is that Costus pictus, as currently defined, is found in several distinct forms, from Mexico to Costa Rica, and there are indications from the molecular data as well as by the morphology that separate species are involved. The form found in the area of Deppe's type collection, if in Veracruz, is most likely the patterned stem form that is found along the Atlantic side of Mesoamerica at least as far south as Honduras and probably into Nicaragua. Examples of this form include the widely cultivated Costus pictus 'Hieroglyphics' and several other plants I have seen in the wild. This form is shown in more detail at the links below:
The Atlantic side, patterned stem form - PID7847
The cultivated Costus 'Hieroglyphics' PID3349

On the Pacific side of the mountains from southern Mexico to northern Costa Rica there is a very common form with unmarked sheaths, green bracts and bright red flowers. This form has been well sampled for DNA and is clearly separated from the others. I have set up a project on Inaturalist project to try to track the many examples of this form that have been posted by observers. I have created an Inaturalist project for this specific form of Costus pictus which can be found at this link on inaturalist: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&project_id=red-flowering-or-pacific-form-of-costus-pictus&subview=map.

This red flowering form is explained in more detail at PID7853
There are two named cultivars now determined to be in this form:
Costus 'Red Baron' from Costa Rica and Costus 'San Francisco Red' from Chiapas, Mexico

Also on the Pacific side of the mountains in Chiapas, Mexico is a yellow flowering form with unmarked stems that grows taller than any of the others. I do not know how far south its range might extend. These two forms are in the same clade in the phylogeny tree but are completely separated from all the other forms of Costus pictus that are found on the Atlantic side. This form is shown here:
PID7582

There is also a form growing in Puerto Rico, possibly in some other islands and in the Yucantan Peninsula of Mexico that has solid red stems and larger yellow flowers. In Puerto Rico it is known as the "planta insulina" and it has been cultivated in India as the "diabetes plant". This red stemmed form is shown here: PID7451

And finally, I found a form growing on karst formation in Oaxaca, Mexico that is shorter than the others and usually produces a basal flower on a leavelss shoot as well as the terminal flowers. This karst form is shown here: PID7642

Despite these differences in form, Costus pictus as currently described can generally be recognized by its green non-appendaged bracts, open type flowers with (usually) yellow corolla and red-striped labellum, very short ligule, and inconspicuous or absent callus on the bracts (according to Maas). In my opinion the nectar callus is quite conspicuous in most of the plants I have seen in this species.

As might be expected from the variety of forms, this species can be found in flower in either the dry season or the rainy season but with peak flowering in the rainy season.

A partial 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. Seven different accessions from my collections representing these different forms have been sampled and DNA. On the "Atlantic Side" (including the Puerto Rico collection and the Karst collections) - R3507. R3453, R3172, R3452, and R3450. The Atlantic side forms were found to be in the Costus malortieanus lineage, along with Costus dirzoi and Costus mollissimus.

On the "Pacific Side" (both the yellow and red flowering forms) - R3314 and R3316. The Pacific side forms were found to be in a later lineage with Costus glaucus, Costus kuntzei, and Costus wilsonii. The cultivar Costus 'Red Baron' (R3295) was also in the same clade in the phylogeny - the clue that first alerted me that this was another of the red flowering Costus pictus.

The resulting molecular phylogeny shows a clear division with completely different lineages between the Atlantic side forms and the Pacific side forms. The Atlantic side forms include the widely cultivated "Hieroglyphics" form with the patterned stems, the "planta insulina" form, as it is called in Puerto Rico, and a form I found in Oaxaca, Mexico growing on karst formations. A portion of the phylogeny tree with these samples is shown below. These forms are found in the same branch as other Mesoamerican species Costus dirzoi, Costus mollissimus, Costus malortieanus, Costus alticolus, and Costus sepacuitensis.

The Pacific side includes both the yellow flowering form from Chiapas, Mexico along the western flank of the mountains there and a red flowering form that is found from Chiapas, Mexico south in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and northern Costa Rica. This has been verified by numerous observations posted on Inaturalist.org. The sampling of these forms are found on a completely separate branch of the phylogeny tree, making clear that they are on a separate evolutionary lineage. These forms are found in the same branch with several predominantly Central American species Costus glaucus, Costus kuntzei, Costus wilsonii, Costus barbatus, Costus montanus, Costus osae, Costus ricus, Costus lima., and the Pacific forms of Costus comosus..

The whole genome of R3172 (Planta Insulina form from Puerto Rico) was sequenced in the Chelsea Specht Lab at Cornell University.

Further research is needed, but will no doubt show that there are separate species involved in the complex we now call Costus pictus.

HORTICULTURAL NOTES:
Based on information at the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) this species is in ex situ cultivation at 35 botanical gardens world wide. I have found this species to bevery easy to grow in my garden and greenhouses at Le Jardín Ombrage.The most common form in cultivation is the Heiroglyphics formm at PID3349. This form is winter hardy here in Tallahassee, Florida.

ACCESSIONS:Click links (if any) to see details of individual collections.


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Photos (if available) of Taxon ID 3075
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Costus pictus Atlantic patterned stem form, Skinner photo from Atla Verapaz, Guatemala - Click to see full sized image
Photo# 282 Accession# R0
Costus pictus Atlantic patterned stem form, Skinner photo from Atla Verapaz, Guatemala


Costus pictus type specimen - Click to see full sized image
Photo# 512 Accession# R0
Costus pictus type specimen


Costus pictus, photo from Skinner R1572, cultivated as 'Heiroglyphica' - Click to see full sized image
Photo# 436 Accession# R1572
Costus pictus, photo from Skinner R1572, cultivated as 'Heiroglyphica'


Costus pictus, photo from Skinner R1572, cultivated as 'Heiroglyphica' - Click to see full sized image
Photo# 576 Accession# R1572
Costus pictus, photo from Skinner R1572, cultivated as 'Heiroglyphica'


Costus pictus, photo from Skinner R3172, planta insulina form - Click to see full sized image
Photo# 437 Accession# R3172
Costus pictus, photo from Skinner R3172, planta insulina form


Costus pictus, red flowering form 'Red Baron', photo from Skinner R3295, from Puntarenas, Costa Rica - Click to see full sized image
Photo# 438 Accession# R3295
Costus pictus, red flowering form 'Red Baron', photo from Skinner R3295, from Puntarenas, Costa Rica


Costus pictus, Pacific form, photo from Skinner R3316, from Chiapas, Mexico - Click to see full sized image
Photo# 439 Accession# R3316
Costus pictus, Pacific form, photo from Skinner R3316, from Chiapas, Mexico


Costus pictus, karst form, photo from Skinner R3452, Oaxaca, Mexico - Click to see full sized image
Photo# 440 Accession# R3452
Costus pictus, karst form, photo from Skinner R3452, Oaxaca, Mexico


Costus pictus, photo from Skinner R3507, Atalantica, Honduras - Click to see full sized image
Photo# 281 Accession# R3507
Costus pictus, photo from Skinner R3507, Atalantica, Honduras