The Begonias of Ecuador : 2nd expedition
2014 May 29 / June 20
by Jacky Duruisseau
Why a second travel in Equator ? In 2012, we were in this wonderful area in March, in the rain season : the volcanos tops were in clouds and the begonias were in blossom, without fruits ! So, the goal of this second trip was double : first, see the Cotopaxi and Chimborazo tops who are more 6000m at the highest point and, second, find begonias seeds, especially Gobenia and Eupetalum sections ones. It was foreseeable that June, in dry season, would be the good time for the mountains tops and for the seeds. But Mother Nature had chosen another way, but only about the weather forecast : the rain season who is no end to it and many rains for the two early weeks ! And tops any better visible than in 2012 ! But the begonias fruits were in a meeting …
Talk about the extraordinary biodiversity in Ecuador. Of course, the reason is the relief variety : two mountains ranges, the western cordillera who gets rains from the Pacific, and the eastern cordillera who under the Amazonia ones. Between, a plateau at an altitude of about 2000 m, the “allée des volcans”. The consequence is an important altitudes variety : during this trip we move from the sea level to Guayaquil, to 3500 m in the cordilleras. It follows a very different climate : equatorial, hot and damp on the western and eastern ranges sides, from 500 to 2500 m ; fresh, and even cold and damp in the Andean clouds forests, from 2000 to 3500 m. We have met all the intermediate ones !
Lita area (May 31) : Lita is a small town in the north of Quito, near the Colombia border, at about 200 km from the capital. Here, we are in the west cordillera, a broken area, warm, with a very damp rain forest under the rains from the Pacific. Many streams go down from the mountain. We find again the giant of the Begonia genus B. parviflora, who is sometime 3,50 m tall ! A difficult growing one in the living room ! Chantal and Jean Louis have the first “Begonia-trip” and this begonia is a revelation… It is in blossom. We’ll meet it in all the damp forests of Ecuador at a middle altitude. Its many small white flowers ( hence its name) allow see it from far on the forests slopes (photo 1). We visit two streams and find a species we had not seen in 2012 (photo 2), an epiphytic one on trunks and rocks, near the road ; perhaps it belongs to the Gobenia section. Sebastian our guide falls in the water ! Chantal who wishes celebrate the baptism of her first begonia in situ, falls too in the stream…Rocks are slippery but water is not cold…
Baeza area (June 1 / 2 ) We cross the eastern cordillera by the Papallacta col (4000 m) under rain ! Paramos landscape : peat bogs, andean plants and moor in altitude ; it is cold and not any begonia here…of course ! We arrive now in the Amazonia area. Streams go down furiously towards…the river Amazone ! Baeza is the north Amazonia door of Ecuador.
After Baeza, the road follows a pipeline (Equator has petroleum and an economic growth of about 6% !) and leads to the San Rafael waterfall (unfortunately, they are closed because of a big rising of the river Quijos). Several interesting places in this area : after El Chaco, in a forest remnant, we find B. parviflora (of course ! ), B. glabra and an unidentified species of the Gobenia section (photo 3) but not a flower on this very nice creeper (who was in blossom in 2012) ; we’ll see often this epiphytic species (photos 4) until San Rafael and especially near the Malo waterfall where it grows in large quantities on mossy truncks, with an very important hygrometry because of the spray of the waterfall. In the descent from Baeza, we visit a track and find again a species seen in 2012 : I thought it was B. tiliifolia ; in fact it is B. consobrina (photo 5) : the leaves of these two ones are likeness, entire, asymmetric, hanging, the B. tiliifolia ones, more broad than the B. consobrina ones ; the flowers distinguish the two species : B. tiliifolia inflorescences are white, axillary and unisexual ; the B. consobrina ones are pink, hanging and bisexual. Curious : the Lyman B. Smith and Wasshausen flora of the Ecuador begonias does not talk about that. It is yet important !
Misahualli / Puyo aera (June 3 / 4 ) The flora cited above gave notice of begonias some kilometers from Baeza, near Cosinga : information too vague and we find nothing ! In other hand, we drive a track along the Oritayacu rio and we see again the section Gobenia species we had found to the Malo waterfall I think it is the same ! ) ; Colette locates a wonderful Orchid in blossom, a Lycaste. After, on another path, the previous begonia grows on all the stumps (so, before, there was a forest here !). It is in the full heat of the sun and the flowers are red ! (photo 6 ). Upwards, we find it again in a forest remnant : leaves are brown ! (photo 7 ). Is the same species ? Not any flower for comparing.
Then, we burst into the Antisana Park but we must come back the car under a torrential rain.
After some kilometers, on the roadside, a begonia with red flowers ; what a color ! It is B. urticae (photo 8). In 2012, I thought this species was B. longirostris of the Casparya section : fruits have a strong beak and it is a feature of the section ; flowers and fruits are present .
On evening, we reach Misahualli, a small amazonia town along the edge of the Napo river, an Amazon tributary. Warm and damp atmosphere completely different from the Andes one, in a listlessness…Monkeys walk in the center and we must be careful because they are thieves !
We stay to the “Auberge Espagnole” cited by the Internet as a nice hotel that looks out to the Napo river… Yes, we can perceive the Napo but it is in back of sheet metal roofs…
We eat in restaurant and Sebastian orders …beetles grubs ! Colette tastes them…no convinced ! We choose Tilapia, a fish from the Napo river, with manioc, tomatoes and onions…Delicious !
The next day, on morning, in the garden of the hotel, a begonia ! We can see flowers, fruits and plantlets together : certainly an annual one ; it will be confirmed , it is B. humilis (photo 09 )
We look for again begonias on the next morning, on the road towards Puyo. We are still on the Amazonia side. On the border of the Jatün Sacha reserve, we find a marvel : B. maynensis. We know and we grow this begonia as B. longimaculata. Mark Tebbitt confirms it is the same species. The blade is very variable, with silver stains between nerves more or less large and even sometime absent (photos 10/11).
Few flowers but mature fruits, seeds are already almost away. In this place, we meet too a very nice Gesneriacea (photo 12) and other very interesting plants as spectacular Aracea.
A visit to the botanical path of Puyo allows us finding another begonia B. buddleiifolia (photo 13) of the Pilderia section. I didn’t knew it : it is in blossom, with red flowers on a terminal peduncule. Great day !
On evening, we stay to the Lodge Altos del Pastaza near Puyo : a wonderful view on the Pastaza river who runs 200 m lower (photo 14).
Baños area (June 5 ) : This day would be the one of an very interesting discovery : a rare species, Begonia hitchcockii of the Gobenia section. We explore in vain paths and streams near the road. Nothing, except the species we had already found as B parviflora, B. consobrina, B. urticae and B. buddleiifolia. We see often another species B. fischeri , which we can qualify as a ruderal one : it grows on the waste grounds, the ruins, near the habitations and on the paths who lead to.
To Rio Verde, we visit “el Pailon del Diablo” ( the Devil’s Caldron” ), a very big waterfall (photo 15) on the Pastaza river. Very high hygrometry and nice place where we see B. foliosa.
We arrive to Baños. The evening hotel stays on the foot of a famous and active volcano : the Tungurahua…We hope it will keep quiet tonight !
Macas area : Volcano Tungurahua was very quiet on night ! We leave Baños and we pass the Atillo col at 3500 m towards Amazonia area. Many Orchids in the descent ; more than 4000 Orchids species grow in Ecuador ! Colette loves Ecuador…Farther down, about at an altitude of about 2800 m, we find several places of another species of the Gobenia section. We found it in 2012 in the Mindo area and in the Antisana Park. Mark Tebbitt believes this species is B. maurandiae but he thinks he must revise the taxonomy of this section and he’ll need for several years !
After 5 km from the col, we stop for picnic ; just opposite us, a place where grows this species : very interesting because this begonia, as a creeper, grows on a large slope on the roadside and above all, it is in blossom (photos 16/17/18) ,
with the staminate ones in full bloom ; the stamens form a really amazing yellow column ; the pistillate flowers are still small and will open out later. Not a fruit ! We arrive to Macas on evening and we find your lodging. Very nice, a great spell and so the British woman who receive us…Typical ecuadorian dinner on the terrace, just above the garden (photo 19).
Loja area : We go in the South towards Zamora in the rain ! We are still on the Amazonia side. Between Macas and Gualaquiza, we see again the common species B. parviflora et B.fischeri. The seeds of this last one are reddish-brown.
The next day,on the Zamora road, Sebastian finds (from the car ! ) on the slope, a very nice place where grows B. humilis ; it covers all a slope and the nearly rocks.
We leave Zamora and a navigation error allows us to find a nice place with B. guaduensis : flowers and fruits ! After finding one’s way again, the old Loja track, we wind along the Zamora river and cross forest areas : we see : B. guadeunsis, B. fischeri, B. parviflora and B. glabra. And so, many Chinese people..who are building a dam ! We then pleased to see a wood plank hut, with many flowerpots on the façade (photo 20) : many plants in blossom, some begonias too, but hybrids only…
After passing to Loja under a grey sky, we go towards Vilcabamba. We go in the Podocarpus Park ; we are again in the Andean area ; in 2012, we had discovered nice things here. Many Orchids were in blossom, but to-day, in June, not any one ! Disappointment when we cross the primary forest : the track edges were cut ! We see some rests of B. acerifolia. Fortunately, after hundreds meters, pruning was not made and we find a very nice place with B. acerifolia ; we are at an altitude of 2800 m, it is almost cold and the hygrometry is very high (good to know for growing this begonia ! ). B. acerifolia of the Knesebeckia section has palmatilobate leaves with very nice silver stains along the nerves ; some leaves are totally green (photo 21) (we remember the same feature with B. maynensis) ; it has thick swollen rhizomes and not a tuber as I believed ; it can be 1 m size ; unfortunately, it is a difficult growing one in our climes ; it prefers its clouds forest and does not like a warm glasshouse ; I grow it outside with dry ferns protection in winter of 20 cm thick, covered with a plastic frame. On the trees a lot of moss where grows the nice epiphytic species of the Gobenia section we met towards Baeza ; curiously, on the same plant, some leaves have white spots and other ones have not (photo 22) ; some other plants have red ombilic and nerves (photo 23) and we have still the question : is the same species ? Not a flower on this species who was in blossom in 2012. But some fruits, at 3 m high (photo 24) ! We finish the Podocarpus Park visit with B. urticae in blossom. Still a difficult growing one…
Vilcabamba area : To Vilcabamba, we find again warm and sun. From this nice small town (where many foreign people live now) we explore some forest remnants : actually, this area is especially deforested and the only places with forest, are near the streams where the land is too steep for cultivation ! We find a species unknown, a rhizomatous one with large green leaves (photo 25) ; it grows here in large quantities but not a flower and not a fruit.
We are still in Andean area in the Tapichalaca Reserve where we stay the night. It is cold (about 10°C = 50°F), and we are in fog or rain ! We can have tea (or beer ! ) by the fireside and it is a true happiness…This reserve was created by the Jocotoco Fundation : Jocotoco is the name of a very rare and amazing bird. On morning, we start for meeting it with a guide who comes each day with grubs for Jocotoco ! He whistles and the bird comes ! What a strange animal : short wings, no tail, high paws, it lives in thickets, so it doesn’t need flying ; only some ones in this area, totally protected and here, almost tame ! But very timid, it disappears as soon as we move ! However, we can easy watch it.
Few begonias in the cloud forest (photo 26) of Tapichalaca at 2500 m in the fog : a B. urticae variety with leaves very hairy and still the species of the Gobenia section with white spots on the mossy trunks.
Piñas area : This day (Friday June 13 th ! ) will be a nice one …because we are meeting four begonia species ! We leave Vilcabamba and drive towards West. After Catamayo, people tell us the track who goes to Portovelo is good, without collapses. We are between the two cordilleras with a sweet mountain landscape and many forest remnants. Here, not rain forest but dry one with high and dense thickets line the track. After 5 km, white flowers attract attention : here is B. erythrocarpa (photo 27) ;
its seeds are dark red (hence its name). In 2012, we met only one near Alausi on the Zhud road, but we didn’t know this species. Here, it grows everywhere along the track. After some kilometers, Jean Louis (he is the Afabego President), finds his first begonia ! We’ll call it : “Jean Louis sp.” before knowing what it is ! Mark Tebbitt will identify it later as B. piurensis (photo 28). It is now starting in dormancy : leaves fall, few flowers but many dry fruits. In March 2012, it was in full blossom near Zhud and the slopes were all white : I had never seen such a “carpet” of begonia flowers ! We are meeting it until Portovelo, from an altitude of 2100 to 1300 m. We come near Portovelo and stop to the Milagrosa waterfall : different conditions here because we go down more 1000 m and it is warm and damp : we see immediately white flowers on thick and erect stems, almost without leaves : B. ludwigii (photos 29/30). We nose about and near the waterfall, I find on the earthy slope many tuberous begonias who are just starting : only a leaf : I think of B. serotina. Mark Tebbitt hesitates between B. serotina and B. nervidens. We’ll must wait for identifying with more precision. Only a certitude : it is a tuberous one who is starting again, a contrary to the “stems” who start in dormancy upwards ! It will be the last begonia of the day !
We arrive to the Buenaventura Reserve, another lodge of the Jocotoco Fundation, in rain forest. Hummingbirds are in meeting, brisk and multicolored and wrangle over the best to watering places (photo 31) .
On evening we watch and listen to owls.
Really, a nice day…
Piñas area : We start again on morning. The 4×4 drives with difficulties on the muddy track of the Buenaventura Reserve ; three trees have fallen ! They aren’t big ones but we must cut them with machete and take off with ropes (photo 32). B. parviflora is still present and B. consobrina too (photo 33). Here, the forest is wonderful and very rich : Araceae, Orchids, Bromeliaceae, Ferns are everywhere and grow with an incredible exuberance (photos 34/35). Many multicolored butterflies go with us (photo 36). On the evening we visit the rare « oiseau-taureau » (the “bull-bird”, Cephalopterus ornatus) perched above the trail. A very curious bird !
We leave this wonderful place towards Cuenca. Before El Pasaie, we see again on the slopes of the road, B. ludwigii and B. guaduensis (photo 37) in blossom and with…seeds !
Alausi / Huigra area : After Cuenca where we stay the night, we go again towards the Andes in the center of Ecuador. We had visited this area in 2012 and near Zhud, we find again two tuberous species B. froebelii and B. aequatorialis : the first one is in dormancy and the second one, in blossom. Fruits of the last season are present on the two species. After seeing pictures of B. aequatorialis (photos 38/39), Mark Tebbitt thinks that there are maybe two plants : B. aequatorialis and B. pleiopetala ; in this case, it would be the first record of B. pleiopetala in this area, the Cañar province.
and B. aequatorialis with fruits. I’m still very amazing of this unusual begonia biotope : here, we are at an altitude of about 2800 m, no forest, no gorge, no stream, the begonias grow in grass in full sun from morning to evening ! (photo 40)
We leave Alausi for reaching our night halt, the Posada de las Nubes Hacienda (photos 41/42), after 7 km of a very giddy track ! Here, we are at the end of the earth…in a wonderful place, an authentic one, received by nice and warm people. We’ll keep an unforgettable memory of them.
This day will be the last one for searching for begonias.
The Huigra area, on the return towards « civilization », is often aforesaid in the Flora of Ecuador by Wasshausen and Lyman B. Smith. Maybe we’ll find two unknown species for us : B. compacticaulis and B. triramosa. But the informations about them are vague : “around Huigra”, “5km from Huigra”, “North of Huigra”, “between Huigra and Naraniapata”, etc. Not a GPS point (this flora was written in 1979…). The B. compacticaulis description can imagine it seems to B. ludwigii and it is certainly this one we see very often on slopes, begonia who is going in dormancy with very tall stems sometimes 1 m size (with fruits) (photo 43/44). Mark Tebbitt thinks too that B. compacticaulis and B. ludwigii would be the same species. As for B. triramosa, this species is a mystery to us ! We find an unknow begonia with pink flowers and tall knotty stems who form true bushes nut nothing who seems the description of the Flora. (In 2016, Mark Tebbitt thinks it is a new species). We see too B. guaduensis and B. piurensis in the same place.
As usual, the last day arrives too fast ! As usual, we think there are still many things to see, to discover and to do ! However, our results are positive : we met about 25 Begonia species ; someones were new for us : B. buddleifolia, B maynensis, B. urticae, B. humilis , and perhaps one sp. nov. for science.
Acknowledgements : Many thanks to the American Begonia Society, the ABS Branches (Sacramento Br, Buxton Br, Carbel Corwin Br, , Middle Br, Palm Beaches Br, Potomac Br.) and all the ABS members who helped me : this travel was made possible by their generous financial support.
I should like to thank also Dr. Mark Tebbitt for the precious help he gave to me about the identification of some species we have seen in Ecuador. I’m sure that, when he’ll finish his work, especially on the Gobenia section species, he’ll communicate the results to us.