Tom Croat's summer 2000 trip report
Tom asked me to forward this to the list. It is fascinating to read -
between some of these trip reports and various conversations with Tom, I
know he has a good book waiting to be written just on his plant-hunting
Here it is:
Trip to South America (June 14-Aug. 25, 2000)
Thomas B. Croat, P. A. Schulze Curator of Botany
Missouri Botanical Garden
This summer's collecting trip to South America
was a productive one. The trip began in Colombia on
June 15th where I was met by Marcela Mora who is
working on a thesis with the Araceae of Cabo
Corrientes, a peninsula located midway between the
Panamanian border and the port of Buenaventura. This
is a remote region in Chocs Department, located along
the Pacific Ocean. It is a species-rich area with
over 100 species, many of which are new to science.
It was exciting to collect in this region for the
first time. Though Marcela had collected there for
several months we managed to find a number of new
species. We flew to Nuqum in a small plane, then went
by launch to the village of Arusm and finally by
dugout canoe to the field station. The field station
"El Amargal" lies high on a cliff over the ocean in a
funnel-shaped gulf which caused the tides and the wave
action to be severe so landing and retrieval from the
beach is hazardous.
There are a series of trails leading out from the
field station and we covered most of them but had our
greatest success in areas along the Rmo Arusm where
open areas along the river enabled us to collect in
trees and in areas where trees had been felled with
epiphytes still viable in the branches.
The field station itself was a two story thatch
covered building with a few solar-powered lights and a
gravity water system coming from a nearby stream. The
water system often plugged up after a rain but the
station manager always managed to get it up and running
again promptly. It was an area of heavy rainfall and
one day it rained all day. Fortunately we had
collected so much the previous day that we had to
spend the entire day inside collecting anyway.
The region had its share of Central America
species including such species as Anthurium
acutangulum, A. brownei, A. clavigerum , A. colonense,
A. cucullispathum, A. friedrichsthalii, A. formosum,
A. hacumense, A. lancifolium, A. michelii, A.
obtusilobum, A. obtusum, A. paludosum, A. panamense,
A. propinquum, A. ramonense, A. ravenii, A. salviniae,
A. subsignatum, A. tonduzii, Dieffenbachia
nitidipetiolatum (an unpublished species that ranges
as far north as Costa Rica but had never been found so
far south in Colombia), D. davidsii, D. longispatha,
D. nitidipetiolatum (undescribed), D. tonduzii,
Dracontium spruceanum, Spathiphyllum laeve, Homalomena
erythropus ssp. allenii, Homalomena wendlandii spp.
wendlandii , Monstera adansonii var. laniata, M.
dubia, M. pinnatipartita, M. spruceana, Philodendron
alliodorum, P. grandipes, P. grayumii, P. hebetatum,
P. hederaceum (Jacq.) Schott, P. helleniae Croat
P. ichthyoderma, P. immixtum, P. jodavisianum, P.
ligulatum, P. opacum Croat, P. panamense, P.
platypetiolatum, P. pseudoauriculatum, P.
sagittifolium, P. scalarinerve, P. senatocarpium, P.
tenue and P. tripartitum. Many of the remainder in
the region are new to science. See appendix 1 for a
preliminary list of species from the Cabo Corrientes
Since we accumulated so much material during the
two weeks at El Amargal we feared we could not leave
by plane (owing to their very limited allowance of
baggage). For this reason we decided to leave by way
of a fishing boat that Marcela had learned would be
arriving in Arusm the following day.
Arusm was several hours by path from the field
station or about one hour by boat. It would mean that
our departure would be two days prior to when we
expected to fly out of Nuqum. Marcela had been in
Arusm trying to collect some species that she had seen
only there and I had stayed alone in the camp to
finish describing and pressing the large amount of
material we had collected the previous day. That day
I had severely injured my self with a deep knife wound
6.5 cm long and deep enough to reach the bone. Since
I was so far from any medical attention and with
little hope of sewing up the wound, I had to cut off
the blood flow but using a bandana as a tourniquet and
used the alcohol that I had for pickling plants as a
One possibility for medical attention might have
been to have walked to Arusm in hopes that there was
someone there who could have sewn up the wound but
that would have been at least a 3 hour walk and I
might not have gotten there in time to have gotten
sewn up. Another possibility would have been to try to
radio the two nudist neighbors who lived in the
adjacent bay and and who have a small boat but they
usually had to be notified first by blowing on a conch
shell so they would know that they were gettting a
message. I had not yet mastered either the conch
shell blowing or the radio operation and was not sure
that I could have made contact with them.
That night I simply doused the wound with 95%
alcohol then put my hand into a plastic bag to be
sure that I did not bleed all over covers. In the
morning I soaked my hand in wanter to loosen the
bandana, eased it off and replaced it with another. I
had received word from Luz Eugenia, the station
manager who had returned just before dark that Marcela
had made arrangements for us to depart Arusm by
fishing boat. A small boat was to come pick us up at
10:00 AM. Marcela arrived back from Arusm early the
next morning, having left at dawn to get across the
river before the tide came in and made the river too
deep to cross on foot.
The dugout came at 10:00 AM when the tide high
enough to get to the narrow sand beach. Any earlier
it would have been impaled on the rocky sea bottom and
any later it would be impaled on the rocky cliffs below
the station. The wind was strong and waves were high
as the boat backed its way to shore. I had hauled all
the bags down to the shore using only my right
hand. The largest I had balanced on my back after
getting the cook and Luz Eugenia to help me place it
there. I was ready to load the boat as soon as it
arrived. With the boat fully loaded and the
passengers aboard the two boat operators tried
desperately to keep the boat from being beaten
sideways and thus rolled over. Many waves were
breaking over the bow and totally flooding the boat.
With the cook baling water as fast as she could the
two boatman finally saw a window of opportunity between
the waves and quickly got the boat off of the shore so
they could start the motor and power out between the
incoming waves. We hit the first wave face on and
nearly left the water, landing upright then sped up
and moved parallel to the incoming waves to avoid a
repetition of the wave impact.
Arriving in Arusm we discovered that the fishing
boat had not even arrived so we parked the boat and
went to get some lunch. By about 2:00 PM the boat had
arrived and was partially filled with fish but the
tide was going out again and the boat was forced to go
out into the bay and anchor down for the final
loading. By 2:00 PM the passengers were told to get
aboard even though it did not depart until about 5:00
The 25 hour trip down the coast to Buenaventura
was grueling. The boat was not exactly equipped for
passengers, completely filled with smelly fish, the
boat had only a box-like space on the top which was
used to carry lumber and other equipment. The storage
space was too small to allow you to sit up straight,
so we were forced to lie flat on top of the lumber
pile. The box was so full of people that we were
cheek to jowl and many of the women aboard became
seasick and were vomiting. It was pretty bleak.
Those who wanted to remain in the relative comfort of
the roof and forfeit the possibility of guaranteeing
themselves a spot in the cramped inner quarters (and
this included Marcela who said she could not bear it
inside) were jovial. Most were passing around a
bottle of liquor. By about 10:00 PM it had begun to
rain and those on the roof rushed inside and piled in
between peoples legs making the space even more
I was fearful that in this cramped space with
people kicking around that someone would smash my hand
and start the bleeding again so I lay awake all night.
The following day it was even hotter in the box but
unbearable outside during the midday heat where the
sun really burnt. The boat had lost one of its two
small outboard motors and was now barely moving. It
was so slow as it approached Buenaventura that we
could count the windows in the downtown hotels a full
hour before we reached the docks there.
From Buenaventura we made our way to Cali and
then by plane to Bogota, arriving early in the
morning with all 13 parcels without even having had to
pay overweight on the bus. Back at Marcela's house we
got our first wash up in days then we were off to the
university to fill the plant dryers with our material.
In addition to drying the herbarium material I
met several times with the Colombia aroid specialists,
who, in addition to Marcela Mora with whom I had
traveled to Chocs, included Jorge Jacome, Martha
Patricia Galeano and Felipe Cardona. We discussed
ways to advance the study of the Araceae for the Flora
of Colombia and divided up responsibility for future
On July 4th I flew to Ecuador where I met Lynn
Hannon, Dylan Hannon and Emily Kinsinger and drove to
San Lorenzo in Esmeraldas Province near the Colombian
border to continue work on the Flora of the Lita-San
Lorenzo Region a project that I am carrying out with
the help of Dick Mansell and Lynn Hannon. The coastal
village of San Lorenzo, until only two years ago
isolated and reachable only by boat, is now accessible
by road both to the north from Ibarra and to the east
to the city of Esmeraldas. We chose to try the route
through Esmeraldas because I thought it would be
faster but it proved to be a rather bad road. On the
way to Esmeraldas we collected one day at the ENDESA
reserve on the west side of Volcan Pichincha and also
tried to get into the Bilsa Biological Reserve near
Quinindi. The road was horrendous, really suitable
only for horses. After about an hour of driving we
gave up and turned around because the road got worse
and worse. At the rate we were driving it would have
been another six hours and would have gotten us there
after dark with no reservations to stay in the field
station. So we returned and made our way to
Esmeraldas. The following day we made our way over a
very rough road to San Lorenzo.
This year we concentrated our collecting in the
lowlands around San Lorenzo since this part of the
flora study area had been visited only once
previously. San Lorenzo had grown immensely since the
roads opened up and there were quite a number of
hotels, the best of which was the Hotel Continental.
We took over most of the third floor and made good use
of a large open area which must have been some kind of
meeting room with a large table. It was excellent for
pressing plants and we only had to contend with the
proprietor who showed up frequently to make sure we
were not using too many lights.
Our collecting took us to most of the lowland
roads including the road to Mataje which makes it all
the way to the Colombian border at which point the
road abruptly ends. We did not find so many species
as we did in the Alto Tambo area but many of them were
new species or species not yet determined. Many are
certainly new to the Lita-San Lorenzo Flora. Among
those determined species collected in the San Lorenzo
lowlands were Anthurium brownii, A.dolichostachyum, A.
friedrichsthalii, A. incomptum, A. insigne, A.
obtusum, A. paludosum, A. propinquum, A. sodiroanum,
A. trisectum, A. versicolor, Dieffenbachia
nitidipetiolatum, D. tonduzii, Homalomena wendlandii,
Monstera spruceana, Philodendron alliodorum, P.
brunneocaulum, P. fragrantissimum, P. hebetatum, P.
hederaceum, P. jodovisianum, P. pogonocaulis, P.
senatocarpium, P. squamipetiolatum, P. sparreorum, P.
subhastatum, P. sulcatum, P. tenue, P. tenuipes, P.
tripartitum, Rhodospatha pellucida, R. moritziana,
Stenospermation andreanum, Syngonium crassifolium and
We had an interesting experience on our departure
from San Lorenzo. Having packed the truck completely
filled with plants we were forced to pile the last of
the bags in a pile even above the tailgate. This
proved to be a mistake since at the first bump in the
road, the fold-up window was forced open and Emily's
bag slipped out entirely unnoticed. We had driven
only a few kilometers when we stopped at the gasoline
station and there discovered that the bag was missing.
Returning to town we began to ask everyone if they had
seen it, beginning at the hotel and working our way
back toward the gasoline station, even going into a
nearby school. Driving up and down the road asking at
every door we finally got action. A women had
actually carried Emily's bag about a kilometer up the
road and the colorful bag surely must have been seen
by dozens of people yet no one admitted having seen
this unusual incident. Nevertheless, as we got closer
and closer to actually finding the bag and proved that
we were not going to give up looking for it, the lady
who had taken the bag home finally brought it out to the
street and turned it over to us.
On our return trip from San Lorenzo to Quito we
went north to Ibarra, allowing us to collect in the
area between Alto Tambo and Lita, the most aroid-rich
region in Ecuador. Back in Quito with a pickup load
of specimens another week was spent at the Herbario
Nacional drying plants and determining existing
herbarium collections both at the National Herbarium
(QCNE) and at the Universidad Catolica (QCA).
While Lynn and Dylan went their respective ways
(Los Angelos and Tampa) Emily Kinsinger and I went on
to Bolivia for work with the Flora of Bolivia. We
were met by Thorsten Koerner and Amparo Acebey at the
La Paz airport. Amparo will be my Bolivian
collaborator for the treatment of the Araceae for the
Checklist for the Flora of Bolivia, a project
currently being carried out by the Missouri Botanical
Garden. While in La Paz I stayed with my old friend
Stephan Beck, a German botanist who has lived with his
wife Carola in Bolivia for over 20 years.
After a brief stay in La Paz we headed off
through the Nor Yungas Province in Thorsen's 1979
Toyota 4-wheeler to Caranave. The trip was greuling
but we made it to Caranave by shortly after dark after
being forced to wait about two hours near Yoloso while
equipment cleared the road from a cave in. The
stretch of road from La Paz through Caranave,
especially the upper part is among the most dangerous
in the world with innumerable crosses and monuments
indicating accidents where people lost their lives.
It is not at all surprising that this happens. The
road is mostly 1-lane with the tracks only inches from
a precipice which leads to a drop off of as much as a
kilometer, so far and so steep that one can not
readily see the bottom. The road is carved out of the
side of the a cliff which is virtually vertical so
that the road in many cases appears to be a tunnel
with one open side.
The following day we headed through the Serrania
Bella Vista to Sapecho, collecting along the way.
This area proved to be one of the most interesting
areas we collected. We spent two days around Sapecho,
and area where Amparo and Thorsten had done a lot of
research. There we stayed at a comfortable house
owned by the Institute of Ecology in La Paz.
We traveled on to Rurrenabaque in Beni
Department. We then crossed the Rmo Beni and drove to
Tumupaza near Madidi National Park. We spent two days
collecting in Madidi National Park (an area recently
featured in a National Geographic article). This
newly created park, which extends all the way to the
Peruvian border, was recently made accessible from
Tumupaza by a road that is intended to go south to the
indigenous village of San Josi Uchipiamonas. Though
we were unable to make it to San Josi owing to road
closure by fallen trees we made deep penetration
through this virgin forest. On the second day
threatening rain cut forced us to high-tail it out of
the park because the road was steep and unsurfaced and
would have been treacherous with only a brief rainfall.
After returning to Rurrenabaque for one night we
headed off across the savannas of southern Beni to
Riberalta in the far north of Bolivia near both the
Peruvian and Brazilian frontiers. The crossing of
this vast savanna was arduous but extremely
interesting. There were a few aroids such as
Anthurium plowmanii, Monstera dubia, Philodendron
camposportoanum, P. megalophyllum and P. brevispathum
occurring in small islands of vegetation scattered
throughout the savanna but the really interesting
aspect of the savannas were the animal life. The
frequency of bird sightings was phenomenal with the
variety of birds quite amazing. Many were hawks or
large stork-like birds, often exceedingly colorful.
Once we saw an emu which ran along the side of the
road easily out racing us. Other animals included
large lizards and capibaras.
The road was horrible, especially between
Rurrenabaque and Puerto Yata, with the ruts so deep
that often the ditches were used for driving instead
of the actual road. After about two hours we were
even considering turning around but were encouraged by
reports from other drivers coming south that the road
did improve further north. Toward the middle of the
second day we began to see evidence of the Amazonian
forests in the north of Bolivia with islands of
vegetation cropping up between stretches of savanna.
By the time we got to the branch in the road where you
have to chose between going to Cobija in Pando
Department or Riberalta in Beni Department the
vegetation was mostly solid trees.
Though the area along the road was largely
secondary we contacted a Dutch forester, Reni Boot who
had operated a program in Riberalta for six years and
knew of good areas where logging was taking place in
primary forest. These areas were very productive for
finding species new to Bolivia. Among these were such
widespread species as Philodendron alatum, P.
distantilobum, P. hederaceum, P. hylaeae, P.
inequilaterum, P. linnaei, P. ornatum, P. ruizii and
P. solimoesense. Found elsewhere as new to Bolivia
was P. deltoideum.
Other Philodendron species collected in Bolivia
were P. ernestii, P. heterophyllum, P. lechlerianum,
P. pedatum, P. pinnatilobum, P. quinquelobum and P.
Species currently known from Bolivia but not seen
on this trip were P. bipinnatifidum, P. brandtianum,
P. cataniapoense, P. ernestii, P. imbe, P. maximum, P.
paxianum and P. pseudoundulatum.
The trip back to the south was just as slow but
since we knew what we were up against there was less
apprehension. Among the most interesting species
collected was a huge Philodendron that was common in
the old leaf bases of a large palm tree. This
species, which is probably new to science, is among
the largest species of Philodendron that I have ever
seen with sinnuate leaf blades to 165 cm long.
Because of the undulate margins I first considered
that it might be P. undulatum but that species has
blades less than 80 cm long and interpetiolar
squamulae up to 8 mm long whereas this unknown species
has tiny scales 2 mm or less long and much larger
Another interesting species which has much
smaller blades which are variegated with gray in the
juvenile and preadult stages. It differs from the
relatively similar and more abundant P. ornatum in
lacking persistent fibrous cataphylls and in having
only a single inflorescence per axil. The juvenile
leaves of this unknown species match those of P.
variifolium of Exotica 3 and may well be the same
species. There is one problem though, the type of the
adult plant of P. variifolium Schott is a plant with
more or less triangular-hastate lobed blades, a
species that looks more like P. deltoideum Poeppig. I
suspect that this species represents a new species.
Among some of the more interesting things I
discovered about the aroid flora of Bolivia was that
Spathiphyllum has never been collected there while
Dieffenbachia species were relatively common. Despite
having only two species reported in the preliminary
checklist of the Araceae of Bolivia by Kessler &
Croat, at least 5 species exist there. Anthurium
section Belolonchium is represented by a single known
species currently going by the name A. macleanii
Schott, Section Calomystrium is represented only by A.
grande and section Cardiolonchium is represented by
only A. besseae (unpublished) and another unknown
species. Section Xialophyllium is represented by A.
amoenum and A. microspadix as well as an apparently
new species which looks like A. mindense. Anthurium
parile, a member of an undescribed section, was
relatively common. Section Digitternervium is
represented by only A. lechleriana and A. weberbaueri
(which may ultimately prove to be the same species).
Section Dactylophyllium on the other hand is well
represented with A. brevipedunculatum, A. clavigerum,
A. croatii, A. eminens, A. kunthii, A. pentaphyllum,
A. polydactylum and A. triphyllum. Anthurium sect.
Pachyneurium is also well represented with A.
atropurpurem, A. ernestii, A. ottonis, A. oxycarpum,
A. paraguayensis, A. plowmanii, A. plowmanii, A.
solomonii, A. soukupii and A. uleanum. Anthurium
sect. Tetraspermium is represented by A. obtusum and
Monstera proved to be difficult as usual but no
more than 3 species were found at any locality.
Species found were M. adansonii, M. obliqua, M.
spruceana and M. subpinnata.
As elsewhere Stenospermation species proved
difficult to recognize in the field. Species
currently known for Bolivia include S. adsimile, S.
lugoanum (a new species), S. mathewsii, and S. rusbyi.
One species, preumably one of the latter two species,
was common in the Serrania de Bella Vista between
Caranave and Sapecho.
The Syngonium found in the wild consisted of S.
yurimaguense and one highly variable species, probably
just a form of P. podophyllum but one additional
collection, more typical of S. podophyllum in Central
America, was found in cultivation in Rurrenabaque.
The genus Urospatha is known for Bolivia but is
apparently rare there, known only from one region.
Homalomena is represented by H. wendlandii ssp.
crinipes and H. picturata. Rhodospatha proved to be
much richer than previously known. Both R. brachypoda
and R. latifolia were found but R. mukuntakia Croat
(previously known only from Peru and Ecuador) as well
as at least one additional unknown species was
collected. Material was collected of what may prove
to be R. boliviense but we found it to be remarkably
similar to R. latifolia and the two species may prove
to be synonymous.
Xanthosoma species proved to be quite interesting
with at least four species collected. The largest
species which resembles X. unduipes differs from that
species in having the lower blade surface puberulent
and the spathe tube green on the inside.
Though we searched for them we did not find on
the three week trip the following genera:
Asterostigma, Dracontium, Heteropsis, Gorgonidium,
Montrichardia, Schismatoglottis, Spathanthemum,
Spathicarpa, Taccarum or Urospatha.
Although Bolivia is considerably less species-
rich for Araceae than Colombia and Ecuador or even
Peru, it has proven to far more interesting that
previously expected. Amparo Acebey will be coming to
the Missouri Botanical Garden in March to help with
the completion of the checklist of the Araceae for
Bolivia and is also working on an aroid florula of the
Parque Nacional Cotopata near La Paz.
It was an eventfull summer, with three countries,
three different projects and three different sets of
field companions it was an interesting and complex
trip. In all as many as 250 species of Araceae were
collected and photographed, many of them I had not
previously seen. It has been a wonderful and
productive 10 weeks in South America.
-- Steve Marak