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

Gingersrus Database Taxon ID 7586

Costus comosus

OLD NAME: Costus comosus - cultivated

NEW NAME: Costus comosus

NAME CHANGE NOTES: cultivated plant often incorrectly called Costus barbatus


STATUS : distinct form

CONTINENT: Neotropical

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


The plant that is commonly sold in US horticulture as Costus barbatus, is generally recognized to be a form of Costus comosus var. bakeri, but its origin in the wild is not known. There are several early accessions in botanical gardens that indicate it was grown from seeds collected in Costa Rica, but this form is not found in that country growing in the wild - quite possibly it was collected from a plant in cultivation there. In Australia it has been usually named as C. comosus var. bakeri. The variety is distinguished from var. comosus by having the upper side of the leaves glabrous and the bracts scabrid to the touch. The type species is from Guatemala which is the center of distribution for this variety, but the plants found in that region do not at all look like the cultivated Costus barbatus. The variety bakeri will be united with the variety comosus in the upcoming revision to new world Costaceae, so in any event this popular cultivated plant will become simply Costus comosus. The common name often given this form is "red tower ginger".

In March 2017 I visited the Villa Tunari area of Dept. Cochabamba in southern Bolivia. In that area I found a plant growing in a wild area, that is very close in form, nearly identical to the cultivated form of Costus comosus that is often incorrectly tagged as Costus barbatus. There are several early records in that region for C. comosus var. bakeri, and it was also early on known to be in the Santa Cruz Botanical Garden. Since the plant is so widely cultivated, I had to consider the possibility that the plants I saw had escaped from cultivation, but at least at one site, it was far away from populated areas.

In October 2017 I visited with Paul and Hiltje Maas in Holland. Dr. Maas told me that the C. comosus in that region is natural there - not escaped from cultivation. Dr. Maas has had this form cultivated in Holland at Utrecht since 1993. There is a collection record (Cardenas 7368) for this variety in adjacent Cochabamba Dept, Province Carroasco, at Puerto Polonia, Río Coni, 14 km E of San Antonio, that is dated in October of 1942, well before this species would likely have been in cultivation.

In December 2017 I found another plant in this form in Peru in a rather remote locality in Dept. Junín, along the road to the reserve at Pampa Hermosa.

DNA was sampled from my R3031 accession from cultivation and the whole genome was sequenced.

This is cultivated widely around the world, often incorrectly known as "Costus barbatus" or "red tower ginger". My accessions listed below are all from cultivated plants, obtained from nureries or in trade. R2947 came from Australia where this plant is known as Costus comosus var. bakeri. The closest I have found in the wild is in southern Bolivia in the area around Villa Tunari, and I believe that area is the origin of this cultivated plant.

ACCESSIONS:Click links (if any) to see details of individual collections. R1906- R2691- R2947- R3031- R3365-

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Photos (if available) of Taxon ID 7586
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Costus comosus, horticultural form, photo from Skinner R2947, cultivated plant, origin unknown - Click to see full sized image
Photo# 183 Accession# R2947
Costus comosus, horticultural form, photo from Skinner R2947, cultivated plant, origin unknown