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Costus comosus var. bakeri, Chiapas, Mexico


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My primary objective of the trip was to find the origin of this plant that is widely cultivated in the USA under the incorrect name of Costus barbatus. Concensus is this is a form of Costus comosus var. bakerii, so I went to the region where that taxon is reported, hoping it would turn out to be this plant.
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What I found was this, clearly not the same form that is in cultivation. So the mystery continues as to the origin of that plant.
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This one at Finca Irlanda came closest in color and flower but the bract appendages are acutely triangular as in other Costus comosus plants I have seen in Costa Rica and Colombia.
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Here is the detail of the bract, bracteole and calyx. There is a contrasting colored nectar callus on the bracteole. The cultivated plant has an indestinguishable nectar callus on both bract and bracteole.
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Another unusual character was the dense hairs on the corolla lobes - something very rare in Costus, but exactly as described by Paul Maas in his monograph. The cultivated plant has a glabrous corolla as do most Costus.
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Stamen is similar to cultviated plant but without the red-tinged apex.
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Tubular labellum
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Short, truncate ligule.
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Variety bakeri is distinguished from var. comosus by the hairs on the leaves and bracts. In var. bakeri they are supposed to be scabrid to the touch, but in checking many plants I found a great deal of variation in the hairs. I believe it is not useful to base a named variety based on the types of hairs as they tend to be quite variable within a species in Costus.
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It was rare to see the yellow flowers on this species, most were evidently past flowering when I was there.
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This species was quite common in the area, often found alongside Costus pictus, found in rocky areas with good light between 500 and 1000 meters altitude.
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The bract and appendage colors tended to be more green than red on many of these plants, especially older ones.
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I saw this plant continuing to grow past the old inflorescence, exactly like one of my C. comosus plants in my garden that came from the Osa Peninsula area of Costa Rica. I have only seen this happen before in Dimerocostus strobilaceus.
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Lucas and his son Erwin Gomez guide tours at a botanical garden called Isla de Aventura near Finca Chiripa. They agreed to take me farther up the Rio Cuilco to Rancho Allegre where this patch was found.
 
Copyright 2014 - Dave Skinner

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