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

Gingersrus Database Taxon ID 7260

Costus whiskeycola 'El Whiskey'

OLD NAME: Costus 'El Whiskey'

NEW NAME: Costus whiskeycola 'El Whiskey'

NAME CHANGE NOTES: The original 'El Whiskey' plant is now proposed as a separate species to be named Costus whiskeycola.


STATUS : registered cultivar

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.)



The narrative below describes some of the details and history behind all this name confusion.

My specimen of the true "El Whiskey" plant, in the form that is commonly found in general cultivation as Costus erythrophyllus is my accession number R2847, which I received from a nursery in south Florida. I have seen this form at several botanical gardens as well as seeing many photos of it in cultivation. The true "El Whiskey" plant form from Colombia differs from Costus erythrophyllus by having leaves that are not strongly plicate, but rather smooth. It also differs from another very hairy plant that was also introduced to cultivation by Tim Plowman from his collection in Peru.

I first saw that hairy plant in the greenhouses at the Smithsonian Institution just outside of Washington, DC. Their accession number is USBRG 1994-675, they received as a cultivated plant from the Tingo Maria Botanical Garden in Peru. It was collected by Tim Plowman from a place called Ramal de Aspuzana, which is about 65 km north of Tingo Maria. The collection date was probably in March-April of 1976 when Plowman was botanizing in that region with Helen Kennedy, the famed Marantaceae specialist. Lyon Arboretum in Hawaii has what I believe to be this same collection as their L-84.0389, Costus sp. nov., Peru: Plowman 7595; Aspusana, San Martin Huanuco; via Selby 78.844, via B. McAlpin. Planted mauka of H22-14-2 Schleichera. This same collection is at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands, where it was det. 1978 by Paul Maas as Costus sp. nov., collected by Tim Plowman and M. Ramírez R., described as Cultivated herb 1 m tall. Collected in the wild as Aspuzana, Huallaga Valley at Huanuco-San Martin border, April 1976. Leaves dark green above with whitish hairs; shiny red-purple beneath. Stems dark red-purple. Sterile.

Upon inquiry, I received the following emails several years ago, which led to my confusion about the plant known as "El Whiskey". Apparently Dr. Maas was thinking the Peruvian plants are the same as the one from Colombia, but we now know that they are entirely different. He wrote to me as follows: it is "the famous Costus collected in El Whiskey, (Colombia), never described but thriving all over the world in greenhouses. In Utrecht the cultivated plant = Plowman 4396. There is also a collection Plowman 5054 from Madre de Dios (Peru) which is cultivated in the USA. These 2 Plowman collections could very well represent the same undescribed species." Chelsea Specht also commented on this accession: "I just checked out the web link, and based on the entire ensemble of pictures I'd have to change the potential diagnosis that I sent to Mike… I had pictures of the flowers and inflo. only and only meant to say that its definitely not C. cupriefolius. Based on these photos its also not either of the others I've mentioned as possibilites. I believe this is the famous plowman collection fondly referred to as "El Wiskey". Ray Baker has it at Lyon as well, and has it growing in several different areas. The Maas' and I also saw it in the living collection at Berger's Bush in the Netherlands. If so, its Lyon collection number 81.0901 and Plowman number 5054 (NOT collected in 1994, but rather accessioned to Smithsonian at that time). Ray has it in his database with lots of nice photos. Based on my discussion with the Maas', it is my understanding that the species has not yet been named. We were just calling it "el wiskey".

The other cultivated collection of this taxa is at Lyon Arboretum in Hawaii. L-81.0901 Listed and described there as Costus aff. erythrophyllus (leaves large, fuzzy) Peru: Plowman 5054, "El Whiskey"?, (ID as C. sp. nov. by P. Maas); Shintuya, Madre de Dios; road from Atalaya to Salvacion; 650m elev, in understory of wet primary forest. "1m" (2 m), leaves large, reddish, hairy. DNA to Chelsea Specht. Plantings: 1) mauka of H23-8-5. 2) above (10' makai/ewa of) H28-27-1; red; good, Mar 93; in flower, 28 Jul 2001. 3) near H4-11-7, mauka of up trail, below log. This specimen is also at the herbarium in the Netherlands, Naturalis Biodiversity Center. It was collected by Tim Plowman and Wade Davis on February 9, 1975. Described as herb to 1 m tall in shady, partially inundated forest remnant. Leaves dark blackish green above with pale brown hairs; shiny beneath, dark wine-red to purplish red. Bracts light yellowish green, red toward base. Ovary white, calyx red. Seeds black.

In January 2013 I went to Peru and visited the reserve at Pantiacolla which is across the river from Shintuya where Plowman collected yet another specimen of this hairy so-called 'El Whiskey' form. At Pantiacolla I found it to be rather common, growing in primary forest areas in shady understory and generally wet, muddy ground. Most plants had thick hairs on all parts but a few were mostly glabrous. My field observations can be found at

In November 2016 I made another trip to Peru and visited the Tingo Maria Botanical Garden. Costus 'El Whiskey' is no longer growing there and the personnel at the gardens did not remember it. Later that afternoon we were exploring an area about 8 km to the northwest of Tingo Maria and came across a sizeable population of this so-called 'El Whiskey' growing in a shady area near a creek bed. My field observations can be found at

So at that time, dut to all the confusion, I registered the cultivar name Costus 'El Whiskey' and described the cultivar based on that hairy plant.

Then, during a visit with Drs. Paul and Hiltje Maas in October 2017, I learned that I had been misinformed about the Tim Plowman plant that is known as "El Whiskey". The plant that Plowman collected in the locality called "El Whiskey" in southern Colombia is not at all the same as the very hairy Tingo Maria, Peru plant. After much discussion with Paul and Hiltje, and reviewing my many photos, we thought this hairy plant to be a form of the species Costus acreanus.

Tim Plowman's field notes have recently been published by the Field Museum in Chicago. His entry for this collection (No. 4396) is dated 5 November, 1974. "Colombia, Putumayo, km 42 from Pepino to Puerto Asis, El Whiskey. Finca Santa Marta Hilltop forest, altitude 1260 feet. Costus sp. nov. Maas. Spiral herb 70 cm tall, leaves dark green above, dark purple beneath, shiny." A live plant was distributed to Maas, in Utrecht, Netherlands. Per Paul Maas, it has been propagated and distributed to botanical gardens around the world.

Plowman's description of a plant only 70 cm tall, with dark green upper side leaves, dark purple underneath, and SHINY, is consistent with the cultivated plant usually sold as Costus erythrophyllus. I located a community named "Whiskey" in Putumayo Dept. Colombia, on the Rio Guineo, near 0 48 N, 76, 34 W. which appears to be the El Whiskey where this was collected in Colombia. This area has been in control of the revolutionary group, the FARC until recently, but in December 2018 I was able to visit the region. I searched the locality described in Plowman's field notes, but most of the area was deforested for coca growing and although we searched several small patches of remaining forest, we did not find the 'El Whiskey' plant he had collected there.

Then finally, in January of 2020 I traveled to the type locality of Costus acreanus along the Rio Acre in the state of Acre in Brazil. Here I found the plant that is the "real" Costus acreanus, and learned that it is not at all the same as the hairy plant that I had mistakenly called Costus 'El Whiskey'. That hairy so-called El Whiskey is yet another new species that we are proposing to be published as Costus obscurus.


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Photos (if available) of Taxon ID 7260