GingersRus is a trademark of Le Jardin OmbragÚ
Click on logo above to go to GingersRus HOMEPAGE.
Datasheet for Costus laevis

Plant Datasheet for Costus laevis

Click on a thumbnail to load full sized image.
Use your "back" button to come back to this page.

Click to see full sized image
Photo# 17981 Specimen# R0
Costus laevis description by Ruiz in Flora Peruviana et Chilensis

Click to see full sized image
Photo# 17982 Specimen# R0
Matching description to photos of Cuchero plant

Click to see full sized image
Photo# 16731 Specimen# R0
Costus laevis holotype at Barcelona, Spain herbarium, bract detail (hidden by leaves)

Click to see full sized image
Photo# 16730 Specimen# R0
Costus laevis holotype at Barcelona, Spain herbarium, ligule and petiole detail

Click to see full sized image
Photo# 17983 Specimen# R0
Holotype matching to C. aff. spiralis plants

Click to see full sized image
Photo# 17984 Specimen# R0
Google map of area explored by Ruiz

Click to see full sized image
Photo# 17985 Specimen# R0
Untitled Illustration by Jose Gabriel Rivera

CLICK HERE for a detailed botanical description and identification key for this species (opens in new window).
CLICK HERE to see a description of accession #R2247 . (opens in new window).

BOTANICAL NAME: Costus laevis
FORMAL SCIENTIFIC NAME: Costus laevis Ruiz & Pav.
STATUS :Accepted
CONTINENT: Neotropical

This is an accepted neo-tropical Costus species first named from a Peruvian plant by Ruiz and Pav├│n in 1798. The type of the species came from Peru, east of the Andes in department Huanuco in a place that Ruiz called Chacahuassi. The specimen is stored in the Herberi Ruiz & Pav├│n in Barcelona, Spain and can be viewed on line at JSTOR at . On the label of the herbarium sheet of the type in Barcelona is the following notation by Loesener:
Costus laevis Ruiz & Pav., Fl. peruv.: 1: 3 (1798) BC-Ruiz & Pav.-482:
a) "Costus laevis 1787 Peru, Chacahuasi" (m. Pavon) [Chacahuasi (Per├║)]
b) Etiqueta de revisio: "Lam diagnosis in Ruiz et Pav. Flor. Peruv. I (1798) p. 3 plane non congruens. Videtus affinis Costo tomoso Roside." (m. Loesener) [3/4/1936]

There are many other species names that Paul Maas put into synonymy with Costus laevis in his 1972 monograph in the Flora Neotropica series.

  • Costus giganteus O. Kuntze from Costa Rica described in 1891
  • Costus kuntzei Schumann described in 1893
  • Costus pulcherrimus O. Kuntze from Bolivia described in 1898
  • Costus splendens Donnell Smith & von Turckheim from Guatemala first described in 1902
  • Costus maximus Schumann from Costa Rica 1904 (based on C. giganteus O. Kuntze)
  • Costus weberbaueri Loesener from dept Junin, Peru in 1929
  • Costus skutchii Morton from Costa Rica described in 1937

When Maas prepared his monograph, he made these changes without benefit of seeing the plant in its type locality, and in fact he noted that he had only seen a photograph of the type specimen in the herbarium in Spain. So in November 2016 I traveled to central Peru in the area around Tingo Maria, Dept. Huanuco to visit the type locality of this and the other two species: Costus scaber and Dimerocostus argenteus, which were collected and described over 200 years ago by Hip├│lito Ruiz. I had studied Ruiz' journal and determined the locations of the places Ruiz mentioned, including Cuchero, Chinchao, and Chacahuassi - all within a 20 km distance of each other and to the south of Tingo Maria along the Rio Huallaga and Rio Chinchao. At the poblado Cuchero, where Ruiz had stayed for several months I found a plant that best fits the currently described species Costus guanaiensis var. tarmicus, and has sometimes been attributed to an undescribed species Costus aff. claviger. That plant form I found at Cuchero and other places in the region matches very closely to the written description by Ruiz of the plant he named as Costus laevis and I now believe he wrote his description based on that plant which has appendaged bracts and is nothing at all like the plants we now know as Costus laevis. I suspect that the Cuchero plant is the same plant form as was collected, named and described originally as Costus tarmicus, from La Merced in Junin Dept. of Peru.

The entire situation is further complicated by the fact that the holotype of his Costus laevis appears to be yet a completely different plant, also found to be common in this region, that most closely fits to the currently described Costus spiralis. This second plant appears to me to be the same as Ruiz' type specimen, based on my interpretation of the photograph of the specimen, but I have not examined the actual specimen. This plant has non-appendaged bracts as we might expect from Costus laevis, but the flowers are tubular and positioned on the inflorescence the same as is commonly found in Costus spiralis. Another distinct character of this form is that the upper leaves form a wavy rosette under the inflorescence.

These two plant forms were both found to be quite common in the area from Cuchero to Chacahuassi and all along the Rio Huallaga in the region of Tingo Maria, and to me there is little doubt that he would have seen them both during his extensive time in the region. I suspect that Ruiz got these mixed up, and wrote his description from the one plant, while the herbarium specimen is an entirely different plant. If you read his journal, you would not be too surprised by this, because his first set of specimens was lost in a shipwreck, and then after re-collecting, describing and illustrating those lost specimens, a fire at Hacienda Macoro destroyed nearly everything yet again, including specimens, notebooks of descriptions and illustrations.

Nothing in the region Ruiz explored south of Tingo Maria looks remotely like the commonly accepted form of Costus laevis as it is currently known. I found no plants in the area with the basic characters of the current Costus laevis -- none with non-appendaged bracts and open labellum flowers.

And as if the situation is not confusing enough already, there is an untitled illustration which looks like the currently described Costus laevis from the "Drawings of the Royal Botanical Expedition to the Viceroyalty of Peru (1777-1816)". However, it was drawn by the artist Jose Gabriel Rivera who did not join the expedition until 1796, after Ruiz had returned to Spain and Juan Tafalla had taken charge of the continuation of the explorations in what is now southern Ecuador. Unfortunately this illustration is not titled or dated, so the locality of the plant depicted in the illustration cannot be determined. Tafalla did briefly explore another river valley in Huanuco, the area around Chicoplaya on the Rio Monzon, which is about 40 km west of Tingo Maria, so it is possible this illustration came from there, but Ruiz did not include it with his 1798 description of the species Costus laevis. In fact, no illustration was included for this species as was done for nearly all the others Ruiz described in his Flora Peruviana et Chilensis. This untitled illustration adds even more to the mystery.

In short, we have a huge mess with this name, possibly affecting the nomenclature of Costus guanaiensis var. tarmicus, Costus spiralis, and all the names from Central America and Bolivia that have been placed in synonymy with Costus laevis: Costus maximus, Costus weberbaueri, Costus pulcherrimus, and Costus skuchii. I have written a journal article about this problem which is published in the December 2016 quarterly Bulletin of the Heliconia Society International. Further research is needed to sort all this out. I am planning to explore the area around La Merced in Dept. Junin to see the form of the Costus tarmicus and Costus weberbaueri that were collected there to see if they are the same plants as found in the area Ruiz explored. Another clue might be found if I can return to Tingo Maria and explore the Rio Monzon valley around Chicoplaya. I also have a trip scheduled to Bolivia to search for the Costus pulcherrimus O. Kuntze which has been placed in synonymy with Costus laevis.

The photos on this page pertain to the two plants I saw in the area Ruiz explored, matched to his description and holotype of Costus laevis. Additional photos of the two plant forms have been placed on this website under the currently described species names they best fit.

The "Cuchero" plant form with the triangular bract appendages that matches Ruiz' description of Costus laevis is at PID7605.

The other plant form with non-appendaged bracts that matches Ruiz' holotype specimen of Costus laevis is at PID7606.

The following information pertains to Costus laevis as it is currently known, not taking into consideration the problems noted above.

Costus laevis as currently described and delineated by Paul Maas is another of the widespread species that is very diverse in form. Maas in his description says that its mature height ranges from 1/2 meter to as tall as 6 meters! Ligules are 5-15 mm long and petioles 5-30 mm long. It is a type with non-appendaged bracts and open labellum flowers, and normally with long leaf petioles. Central American plants often can be recognized by the silvery midstripe on the upper side of dark green leaves in young plants, but most South American forms do not have this midstripe. The bract colors and flower colors are quite variable. The bracts range from green to red to dark purple, often with a darker color at the base and green towards the margins. The flower colors range from mostly red to yellow (on the corolla lobes) with red stripes and yellow throats on the labellums.

Costus laevis (including the many different forms placed in synonymy by Paul Maas) is found throughout Central America from Guatemala to Panama and in western South America from Colombia to Bolivia. In his 1972 monograph, all the listed collections were from Central America and South America WEST of the Andes, except for one in Peru. Plants that have since then been det'd as C. laevis by Paul Maas include the following (from GBIF records): 2 from Colombia, 25 from Costa Rica, 2 from Ecuador and 1 from Peru. Other determiners have identified specimens of C. laevis as follows: 19 from Colombia, 105 from Costa Rica, 14 from Ecuador, 6 from Mexico, 1 from Panama and 1 from Peru. Based on my own observation this is not at all representative of the distribution as the species is quite common in Panama. Suffice it to say, it is a very widely distributed species as currently described, but it is very diverse in form and needs much further study. I expect that some of these will eventually be described as separate species or they will revert back to their original names.

There seem to me to be two different forms found mostly in Central America, in Costa Rica and in Panama.

One form grows to about 2-3 meters in height, usually has longer, somewhat lobed ligules and long petioles, and is found on the Pacific side or Costa Rica and Panama. I have also seen this form also in lowland areas on the Pacific side of Colombia and Ecuador. I call this the "skutchii" form, based on Costus skutchii Morton which was described from a collection in the Pacific province of Puntarenas in Costa Rica. Photos and description of this grouping are at
The other form grows much taller and usually has shorter, truncate ligules usually inflated toward the base of the shoots and with short thick hairs around the ligule. It usually has completely green visible bracts and the young inflorescence is globular in shape. It is mostly found on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and Panama as well as the central mountains of northern Costa Rica. I call this the "maximus" form, based on Costus maximus Schumann (and its C. gigantea predecessor) which was described from a collection in the Caribbean side province of Cartago in Costa Rica. Photos and description of this grouping are at

There are many other different plant forms in South America and especially on the eastern flanks of the Andes, that can be attributed to the species Costus laevis, or may be new undescribed species. After seeing many plants in flower at Zamora Chinchipe province in southeast Ecuador, I have concluded there are at least three different forms in that region alone that best fit in this species. They are generally characterized by the upper leaves partially covering the inflorescence, but having non-appendaged bracts and open labellum flowers - not fitting any other currently described species. Each of these forms is shown on a separate datasheet web page.

One of these east-of-the-Andes forms is the pendent 'El Gato' form that is described on this website at
PID7509. It is characterized by a pendent inflorescence and has been found in Ecuador, Peru, and also in cultivation of unknown origin.

Another is the "Podocarpus" form I first saw in 2007, photos and description are at
PID7537. This is a massive plant with glabrous parts.

The third is a pubescent form seen in the Zamora-Chinchipe region, described on my website at

In the mountains northwest of Quito, Ecuador near the community of Tulipe I discovered yet another form that fits best into this Costus aff. laevis grouping. Photos and description are at

In the Cordillero Central of Colombia, at the Reserva Natural Nirvana is another form that is said to be native to that area. Photos and description are at

And finally, there is a large, lowland plant collected in 1974 by Tim Plowman in the Choc├│ of Colombia that I have registered with the cultivar name 'Lemon Chiffon'. Photos and description are at



The following are field observations made in Peru in the Tingo Maria region of Huanuco that I recorded at These are believed to be the plant forms seen by Ruiz that he collected and described as Costus laevis. Click on the links below to see numerous detailed photos of plant and flower parts and locality details of these observations. Note that the species names are based on currently accepted names that the plants are closest to - they are not listed as observations of Costus laevis. (Links open in new tab.)

Observations of the plant matching written description by Ruiz

  • Plant found at Cuchero where Ruiz stayed, elevation 1275 meters. Included are full details of the plant and flower parts.

  • Plant found about 10 km north of Chacahuassi along the Rio Huallaga, elevation 900 meters. Includes flowers and ligule detail showing purplish ring around margin of ligule.

  • Plant found along the Rio Repente near Cayumba, elevation 830 meters. Young inflorescence, not in flower. Locality is a river that parallels Rio Chinchao and is just a couple of km north of Cuchero. Many of these plants were found along this river.

  • Plant found along trail to Catarata San Miguel, about 10 km northeast of Chacahuassi, elevation 1200 meters. This plant inflorescence did not have fresh flowers but easily recognized.

  • Plant found along road to Cueva Pumahuassi northeast of Tingo Maria, elevation 700 meters. Flower color on this plant more orange than others.

    Observations of the plant matching holotype specimen collected by Ruiz

  • Plant found along road between Hauchipa and Cuchero where Ruiz stayed, elevation 1200 meters. This plant had a more mature inflorescence but was still in flower. Photos were taken detailing the bracts and flower parts.

  • Plant found along trail to waterfall at Mallqui, Rio Chinchao, elevation 1500 meters. This was a young inflorescence that shows the leafy rosette, globular light green inflorescence, and flower parts are all detailed. Photos of flower parts were taken in hotel room because it had become too late to take them on site.

  • Plant found along Rio Huallaga at Santa Rita Sur, about 10 km from Chacahuassi, elevation 900 meters. Young inflorescence with flowers not detailed.

  • Plant found to be common along this road between Jose Maria Ugarteche and Rio Azul., northeast of Tingo Maria, elevation 1500 meters.

  • Plant found along road road near Casario Ricardo Palma, north of Tingo Maria, elevation 640 meters. This plant had both young and old inflorescences on the same plant, both in flower, showing how they mature with the inflorescence elongating.

  • Plant found along trail to Catarata Gloriapatra, PN Tingo Maria, elevation 760 meters.

  • Plant found along main highwas south of Tingo Maria, elevation 740 meters.

  • Plant found in PN Tingo Maria, Cueva de las Lechuzas area, elevation 675 meters. The bracts on this plant were mostly red, with the plant looking very much like the currently described Costus spiralis.

  • Plant found along Rio Repente, elevation 900 meters.

    Costus laevis - flowers on my plant Costus laevis is another wide ranging and variable species. Its range extends from Guatemala to Peru. In Central American plants, the young foliage usually has a distinctive silvery mid rip stripe, as in the pictures below. The South American plants I have seen in Ecuador do not have that silvery midstripe. The bract colors range from green to reddish purple and the flower colors from almost all red (see my new cultivar 'Lita Red') to just a splash of red on the labellum and yellow on the corollas.

    In this listing I am offering one of the Central American plants with the silvery midrib, either from Costa Rica or Panama, depending on what I have available. This grows to 6-8 feet tall at maturity and prefers light shade to part sun. As with most Costus, it needs rich, moist, organic soil while in active growth. I have not seen it rated for cold-hardiness, but I lost one specimen even with some protection in temps in the low thirties. I am guessing zone 9B or maybe even zone 10 is its limit.

    Costus laevis Costus laevis Costus laevis in my garden.

  • Copyright © 1999-2016 - 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