Chamaecostus cuspidatus in its Natural Habitat

(Click on a thumbnail to open a larger image.)

In January, 2014 I went to the state of Espirito Santo in Brazil where Thiago Andre and I were on a quest to find the elusive Chamaecostus cuspidatus in habitat. This species is common in cultivation but rare in the wild as noted by Paul Maas even back in 1972. Since then, habitat destruction has made it even harder to find. It is only known in the Atlantic rainforest region of southeastern Brazil, in the states of Bahia and Espirito Santo.

Thanks mainly to Thiago's exhaustive advance research, we were able to find two locations where it is growing. To my surprise both places were quite dry and rocky, with the plant growing in leaf mold on and around large boulders below rocky cliffs at about 300 meters in altitude. The area has a very distinct dry season and the plant presumably goes at least partially dormant then. The plants had thickened root structures with a few root tubers, enabling it to survive the dry season. In my own greenhouse I have probably been keeping the plant too wet and have experienced some stem rot as a result. After seeing its natural habitat I will start growing it in conditions more like Chamaecostus subsessilis.

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Chamaecostus cuspidatus
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Location 1 habitat - a few plants (without flowers) were found in the understory below this large rocky outcrop.
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The population was rather small and after searching around the area, there was only the one small patch where we found the species growing.
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Here are the plants we found in location #1.
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A few more.
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The root structure and thickenend root tuber.
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This was location #2. Note the huge rock wall above, populated with the bromeliad Alcanterea extensa. Below were huge boulders in random formations that you could walk between and under.
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Here is a sample of the rock from those boulders.
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The plants were growing in leaf mold right on top of the rock, with very thin soil and rapid drainage.
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This location was virtually carpeted with Chamaecostus cuspidatus in some parts. It reminded me of some of the places I saw Chamaecostus subsessilis last year at Cristalino in Mato Grosso state.
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I was really in awe at the sight of these plants - rarely found but locally abundant, as Thiago has observed with other species of Chamaecostus.
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I think Thiago is in love with this plant.
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A very happy time for both of us - mission accomplished.
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Showing the growth at the base of the plant.
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As you might guess we took hundreds of photos - just could not stop. I am including a small sample.
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They were very healthy here but otherwise I could see no morphological differences from the cutlivated plant.
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Such a beauty.
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Two very curious horses watched me dissect and photograph some of the flowers.
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Nice large, showy flowers, as in the cultivated plant.
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A little leaf damage.
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In fruit.
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Seed pods.
Copyright 2014 - Dave Skinner