Volume VII, Number 2, April 2000

Back to Main List



DAM IT ANYHOW? Will they really do it? For more than 20 years now ICE, the Costa Rican national power (and telephone) company, has had a plan on the books to dam the Río Grande de Térraba (Diquís of early collectors) for hydroelectric power. Under a contract with ICE to produce a report on the vegetation of the affected area, INBio botanists and cartographers began a quick (ca. three-week) survey in February of the current year. Participants on the first two trips included Reinaldo Aguilar, Evelio Alfaro, José González, and Nelson Zamora. Barry Hammel accompanied Reinaldo and Evelio on the third and most recent trip. The study area was defined by possible high-water levels and buffer zones from the narrows in the Térraba gorge (below Curré), back as far as Potrero Grande and Bomba. Although most of the ca. 700 collections gathered from this relatively arid and mostly long-deforested region (in the driest season of the year!) have not yet been identified to sp., one genus and two spp. new to the country have already been recognized (see under "Leaps and Bounds"). One of the new sp., a striking, opposite-leaved Pera (Euphorbiaceae) common in a very restricted area in both native vegetation and as fence-posts (!), is not reported below, because we don't yet know whether it is new to science, or only to Costa Rica. As expected, several spp. previously known only from Guanacaste or the drier parts of northern Prov. Puntarenas were encountered. These in-country disjuncts include: Dicliptera vahliana Nees and Ruellia nudiflora (Engelm. & A. Gray) Urb. (Acanthaceae), Agave angustifolia Haw. (Agavaceae), Selenicereus wercklei (F. A. C. Weber) Britton & Rose (Cactaceae), and Guaiacum sanctum L. (Zygophyllaceae). On a more ecological note, we were surprised to find Chaunochiton kappleri (Sagot ex Engl. ) Ducke (Olacaceae) quite common in forest patches of even the driest parts of the Térraba region. All 15 prior recent collections of this sp. had come from far wetter forests (on the Península de Osa and in the Golfito region). Ironically, the first collection from Costa Rica (Pittier 11948)--for 90 years the only North American collection of this otherwise South American sp.--was very likely collected within the same area we surveyed.

SANTA ELENA PROPERTY NOW OPEN FOR BUSINESS. Some 22 years ago, "a major part of the Santa Elena Peninsula jutting into the Pacific in northwestern Costa Rica" was officially expropriated by the administration of then Costa Rican president Daniel Oduber. "The Santa Elena property is about 15,000 ha of tropical dry forest, mostly on serpentine, and above the sea for the past 85 million years." This is, in fact, one of the driest parts of Costa Rica (with ca. 1500 mm of rain per year), and no other portion of Central America has been above sea level for a longer period. Serpentine exposures are renowned for harboring endemic plant spp. Unfortunately, because of protracted litigation, this particular property, with many large patches of original forest, has been off-limits to scientific investigation. But now the matter has been settled, and the gates flung open. This is great news! On a whim, Manual co-PI Barry Hammel spent last Sunday (9 April) in the able company of Manual Gesneriaceae contributor and Area de Conservación Guanacaste Scientific Liaison Officer María Marta Chavarría, prowling that portion of the new property within easy access of Parque Nacional Guanacaste headquarters at Santa Rosa. Right now, the area is as dry as burnt toast--park workers put out their first fire there just last week--but populations of Agave seemanniana Jacobi (Agavaceae) and Melocactus curvispinus Pfeiff. (Cactaceae), both known in Costa Rica only from the Península de Santa Elena, were alone worth the visit, and further study. In spite of the current drought, Calliandra tergemina (L.) Benth. (Fabaceae/Mimosoideae) is flowering abundantly, as is the peculiar Bulbostylis paradoxa (Spreng.) Lindm. (Cyperaceae), the latter obviously in direct response to the recent fire. [Quotes are from a letter by Dan Janzen et al., posted at: which see, for further background information. The linked photos are courtesy of María Marta Chavarría and Area Conservación Guanacaste.

OUT WITH THE NEW AND IN WITH THE OLD. Our new project coordinator, Elisa Horsch, was accepted to vet school in the fall, on the condition that she complete specified coursework this spring. Thus, she had no option but to resign. Congratulations, Elisa! Though scarcely six months on the job, she applied herself assiduously, and vanquished a herculean workload. Her replacement will be the experienced and well-traveled Mary Merello, a MO employee of long tenure who will be familiar to many readers. Mary already knows the ropes (she has even been to Costa Rica), and is prepared to step right in and take the reins. Unlike our previous coordinators, Mary will perform editorial as well as curatorial duties.

ON THE ROAD. During the week of 12 March, Manual collaborator Scott Mori (NY; Lecythidaceae) took several days from a tour-group obligation in Costa Rica to visit the herbaria at CR and INB. Scott left somewhat bothered by Eschweilera, which he found to be more complicated here than he'd thought. He says he can now distinguish easily only four of what he thinks might be eight spp. in Costa Rica. From his notes and specimens pulled for loan, he plans to work up his manuscript back at NY, and then may plan another field trip. Another celebrated Manual contributor, William R. Anderson (MICH), arrived in Tiquicia, on schedule, during the first week of April, to fill in gaps in his Malpighiaceae treatment. He immediately informed us of yet another remarkable country record (see under "Leaps and Bounds") that he actually found at MICH, during preparation for his trip down.

AVAST! INBio bioprospector Alexander ('Popeye') Rodríguez has wangled a concession from his bosses to devote half of his time, for the remainder of the year, to botanical work. This time will be invested solely in preparation of the Asteraceae treatment for the Manual. Alex has already made great strides in acquiring a firm grasp of this huge family. He is a highly motivated and quick self-starter, and we know he will do an excellent job. Welcome aboard, sailor!

PHYTOGEOGRAPHICAL NEXUS. On numerous previous occasions, we have written in these pages about recent and somewhat perplexing discoveries in the Fila Costeña, along the Pacific slope from south of San José to the Península de Osa [see, e.g., The Cutting Edge 3(4): 1--2, Oct. 1996]. Here have been found taxa disjunct from far to the north [e.g., Hintonia lumaeana (Baill.) Bullock (Rubiaceae)], along with others from far to the south [e.g., Tachia parviflora Maguire & Weaver (Gentianaceae)]. It may well be that such disjuncts are to be expected in any piece of poorly known tropical forest. Certainly, were the Atlantic slopes of the Cordillera de Talamanca more accessible, we would still be finding many similarly exciting records there, as those garnered during our recent series of NGS-funded explorations of the region: Dacryodes (Burseraceae), Nyssa (Cornaceae), Metteniusa (Icacinaceae), Pterozonium (Pteridophyta/Pteridaceae), etc. Nevertheless, these Pacific coastal hills--nearly as wet as La Selva, but with a more definite dry season--do seem especially rich in unusual plant spp. from far-flung places. The newly discovered Costa Rican representative of Canellaceae (a family disjunct from the West Indies and South America), known originally from just one tree on the Península de Osa, is in these hills, too (see below). Add to the mix breaking reports of new Flacourtiaceae and Santalaceae (see under "Leaps and Bounds," this issue), disjunct from the north and south, respectively, and we are bound to call this place a phytogeographical nexus. Vicariance? Dispersal? Lack of collections (absolutely!)? Even in the face of unanswered questions (and because of them), it is exciting being on the scene, and wondering how much more awaits discovery.

CANELLACEAE UPDATE. Thanks to Rolando Núñez, a forester working for the Costa Rican electric company on road-building for a new hydroelectic power station, we got it with good, fresh flowers in March, just a few km N of Parrita, in the area discussed in the foregoing paragraph. As a result of our study of this new material and of the literature, we must modify some of our previous statements and conclusions. What we had interpreted as 25 stamens are, more correctly 25 anther sacs, i.e., 12 stamens; the Costa Rican material thus fits squarely within the genus Pleodendron. In light of this, DNA studies that seemed to suggest that our sp. belonged to a new genus [see The Cutting Edge 7(1): 4, Jan. 2000] are perhaps better read as supporting the merger of Pleodendron (at least) with Cinnamodendron. Our assessment of the tenuous existence of this sp. in Costa Rica remains unchallenged; only one individual has been found in the Parrita region (just two mature individuals in the country), and it had been marked to be cut, for road-widening.

WEB DOINGS. In preparing treatments for the Manual, remember to refer to for sample and draft treatments, editing guidelines, and how to cite the Manual. The link to draft treatments is new:

Here, we are in the process of posting draft treatments in various stages. These will appear sporadically and will be announced in these pages. Presently available, in addition to two sample treatments (Agavaceae, Alismataceae) first posted in 1996, are drafts for the following families: Alliaceae, Alstroemeriaceae, Anthericaceae, Arecaceae, Asteliaceae, Cactaceae, and Sapindaceae.

Finally, for problems with old collection localities, refer to:

WE THOUGHT YOU KNEW. All too often we find ourselves blindsided by aggravations that we did not foresee during the preparation of our "Guidelines for Contributors." Live and learn; this is the first flora we've ever edited! Here is an example: it did not occur to us to instruct contributors to restrict their voucher citations to specimens actually collected in Costa Rica. If it can happen, it will, and this has. For future reference (and especially for those contributors yet to submit): under no circumstances will we knowingly allow the citation of vouchers from outside Costa Rica! Let's put it another way: the existence of at least one herbarium specimen from Costa Rica is a virtually inflexible prerequisite for the inclusion of spp. in the Manual. If you are unable to cite such a specimen, we will assume the worst. We aim to be as unambiguous and authoritative as possible in our enumeration of spp., and will not be accepting unvouchered literature or sight records (although these may be noted, informally, in family or genus discussions, or discussions of similar spp.). Falsifiability, not credibility, is our principal concern. As all rules, this has at least one exception: if a sp. is recorded from Costa Rica on the sole basis of a missing or destroyed type specimen, or a type illustration, then we obviously must inlcude that sp. Other exceptions are conceivable, perhaps inevitable (ask us). Another plea in the same vein: avoid, if at all possible, the citation of historical collections, particularly those of Alfaro, Biolley, Brenes, Pittier, Tonduz, Wercklé, etc. Choose a modern collection whenever possible. The main reason for this request is that all (or the vast majority) of these historical collections have been segregated from the main collection in the CR herbarium, where they are housed in a separate room to protect them from routine use . Some of these early collections (especially those of Brenes) are already badly damaged due to the normal ravages of time, and we have no desire to encourage further handling. For the same reason, please try to avoid citing types. We suspect that some contributors have actually gone out of their way to select these older collections, and we apologize for not having clarified this previously (in our defense, the collections had not yet been segregated at the time the guidelines were written). Keep in mind that the cited vouchers are not merely of theoretical interest, but will (we intend) be put to actual use, mainly by workers in Costa Rica; hence our preference for modern specimens in Costa Rican herbaria. Of course, in some cases, such specimens will be unavailable. For further suggestions on voucher selection, see the "Guidelines Update" on p. 7 of our inaugural issue (Jan. 1994; does anybody really save these?).