Thursday, February 8, 2024

Cotopaxi: alphabetically....(some parameters of the paramo...)

                                                        "...I went into a golden land,
                                                         Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
                                                         Took me by the hand."
                                                                                    Walter J. Turner

Unlike Turner, I was not obsessed with Chimborazo or Cotopaxi at the age of 13. Perhaps I should have been. This is the best picture I managed of the second highest peak of Ecuador (19,347'). The following album is a rather mixed up lot--but at least they're alphabetical--of plants from the "Paramo"--the high elevation ecosystem near Cotopaxi. There is NOTHING comparable to paramo at high latitudes...

Acaena elongata

Not actually in the wild--in a "botanic garden' in the national strange to see a genus I know so well from New Zealand and Patagonia growing as an upright shrub!

Adiantum poiretii

The variety of ferns in more protected spots was astonishing. I-Naturalist proposed the name for this one--I guessed it was in the capillus-veneris complex. Or guide said there were over 1000 species of ferns in Ecuador. I believe him.

Alchemilla orbiculata

I was shocked at how MUCH of this grew EVERYWHERE around the volcano--acres and acres of lady's mantle. Who'd a thunk it? I know the genus from South Africa and Eurasia--how surprising to see it here too. I'd surmise it's just about the most abundant forb on the Paramo.

Closer look at the "flowers"-- basically an apetaloid potentilla!


Arcytophyllum thymifolium 

At first I thought it was a daphne--but research revealed this is in the Rubiaceae: incredibly abundant in certain areas. I can't believe I only took one picture of this--it was wonderful! Since it experiences a cool summer every day and a chilly winter every night it is hopeless in a Continental climate. Annoyingly they could very likely grow many of these plants outdoors in cool, maritime climates like Sweden, Scotland, Vancouver Island or coastal Western USA. Grrrr.

Asplenium cf. viride
I posted this on I-Naturalist--turns out this grows far to the north--so I am probably wrong about the name--but looks just like this plant I've seen in Eurasia and North America (although not in Colorado where it is found in quite a few places. Scott Smith found a fantastic colony in the Sangre de  Cristo I would LOVE to check out!)
Azorella pedunculata 

I've seen a lot of Azorella--but NOTHING like this with the ludicrous chartreuse excrescences--seed? flowers? Couldn't figure it out...

And some without those growths: different sex? Different species? Looked almost exactly like A. trifurcata--which I did see listed for here...

Baccharis aff. buxifolia

There are several species of Baccharis that are extremely common. Unfortunately we didn't come across the tiny, pulvinate high alpine species--which is to die for!

Baccharis aff. buxifolia

Neobartsia (Bartsia) laticrenata 

One of several hemi-parasites closely allied with north temperate taxa--way cool!

Berberis sp.

We saw at least 3 species--and probably more--very much resembling American and Eurasian barberries: who knew?

Bidens andicola 

A really fantastic plant--growing by the million all over the paramo. Flat as a pancake. Kelly Grummons has hardy Bidens in several colors persisting and overwintering--a genus I have obviously undervalued.

Bidens andicola 

Closeup showing the incredible paramo lichens that encrust vast swaths of the land. The flowers really do resemble Zinnia grandiflora! Not to get too wrapped up in this ludicrous year, I vastly prefer Bidens to Drumbfia, the latter a nasty, invasive, parasitic genus with crass, ostentatious (and yet somehow insipid) orange flowers. Most reliable authorities regard this genus as fallacious at best and probably illegitimate. I personally believe Drumpfia is just a subspecies of Putinia--that most insidious weed of all! How I would LOVE to exchange it all for some Krapfia (op cit.) much nicer really than any!

Bomarea hirsuta

We saw this (or a close relative) time and again--some almost yellow. I know they grow this in California. 
Brachyotum ledifolium 

I was totally mystified by this--but the leaves should have alerted me that it was Melostomataceous! Extrremely abundant all over the paramo--and lovely!

Did I mention the vistas were lovely?

Calamagrostis intermedia 
The dominant graminoid where we were--with a definite resemblance to my dreaded 'Karl Foerster' which is so overplanted in Denver.

Calamagrostis intermedia 

Calceolaria sp.

The only Calceolaria we found--and it is out of focus. So be it.

Castilleja fissifolia 

Had to show this--just check out that paramo--solid lichen and not much else. So like the steppe--except it's wet. And never has seasons. Weird!

Castilleja fissifolia 

My favorite vignette: almost looks like Colorado!!!

Chuquiraga jussiei 

One of the coolest (and commonest) shrubs of the paramo. Looked South African to our eyes. Of course no nope of hardiness despite growing at 12,000' No justice in the world.

Chuquiraga jussiei 

This is what it looked like among the Calamagrostis...

Elaphoglossum engelii 

I probably photographed thirty ferns--only a few of which I could put a name to. Loved this one.

Ephedra cf. andina

I think we saw at least three species of Ephedra.

Ephedra cf. andina

Ephedra cf. andina

So odd to see these growing on wet paramo--but then I saw ephedra at 15,000 on wet tundra in Sikkim!

Epidendrum jamiesonis

Seeing massive clumps of orchids like this at 11,000' blew my mind.

Eryngium humile 

Photographed in the lawn at our lodge. I would grow this. But then I grow almost any Eryngium!

Gentiana sedifolia

Extremely reminiscent of Gentiana prostrata in the Rockies. Closes its flowers just as fast if covered. I've seen similar in Asia too...

Gentianella cerastoides 

It looked exactly like a crocus at first. This was the choicest plant of the trip: absolutely gorgeous--and extremely common. I took dozens of pictures--all of them turned out. I ought to do a blog just with those! Maybe I will..

Gentianella limoselloides 

And we even found a second species...but not the spectacular scarlet and yellow and giant lavender ones: perhaps I need to go back?

Geranium multipartitum 

This HAS to be closely allied to G.sessiliflorum--which I've seen in Patagonia and New Zealand. We saw this many places...some almost pink.

Gnaphalium sp.

Homely I know: but we have gnaphaliums just like this. I have a weakness for the Gnaphaliniae. Don't tell anyone (in my defense that tribe DOES include Helichrysum, Antennaria and Eidelweiss--and some other real treasures)

Halenia weddellian

A surprisingly widespread genus. I just recall seeing a tiny Halenia in Pakistan 23 years go that looked like a crocus (or Gentianella cerastoides). Nature has a sense of humor. I've not scanned that slide however.

No, Virginia, that's NOT an Epimedium! This dang thing was EVERYWHERE!

Hydrocotyl bonplandii 

We only found this once or twice. 

Hypericum laricifolium

This was extremely abundant. I would love to grow it (but of course it won't survive in temperate areas despite growing higher than our alpine!)

Hypochoeris sessiliflora 

Another extremely common plant--so much like the weed in New Zealand my friend Steve Newall collected on a massive scale for European green roofs. This one I'd grow.

Lamourouxia virgata 

Ridiculously like a penstemon. But another Orobanchaceae, I believe, and hemiparasitic.

Lupinus microphyllus 

Lupienes everywhere. I love this little one!

Lupinus pubescens

The common big one around Cotopaxi. We never saw L. alpecurioides, alas!

Lupinus mutabilis

We ate these in salads and at many a buffet: I was thrilled to see it being grown as a crop.

Lichens everywhere...

Crustose lichens
We have crustose lichens very like this. I would have loved to take this rock home--but the lichens would likely perish in a day. And the baggage cost would be prohjibitive.

I thought this was a lycopodium--but it's probably a Phlegmariurus which is closely allied and out of aphabetical order.

Muehlenbeckia volcanica 

What a shock to see this genus I know so well from New Zealand (one of which thrives in my garden!) different from our North American Polygonaceae!

Muhlenbeckia vulcanica

Myriopteris myriophylla 

course this was once Cheilanthes. Could almost pass for one of our Colorado species.

Passiflora cf. quitensis

Photographed on a cliff about 20 away from my phone. There are a LOT of passionflowers in Ecuador--mostly in rain forest.

Pellaea ternifolia

I was so stunned to see this, which grows wild a mile or two from where I grew up (albeit Colorado's is a different subspecies: var. wrightiana)

Pellaea ternifolia

Obviously had to take two shots of this--one of the few species we truly share!

Perezia multiflora 

Gloriously thistle-oid!! I had a hard time combining this in my mind with the delicate cushion Perezia spp. I've seen in Patagonia.

Perezia multiflora 

Perezia multiflora 

Pernettya (Gaultheria) prostrata 

This was everywhere--often growing on exposed open paramo!

Persicaria nepalensis 

I find it VERY hard to believe this is an adventive from the Himalayas--it was growing MILES from any habitation--and the little houses on the paramo don't have many ornamentals...

Persicaria nepalensis 

Plants DO get around though..

Phlegmariurus crassus 

I saw this red club moss several times. What a wonderful thing...

Plantago sp.

I have a thing about Plantago. Now is not the time to talk about it. We did NOT see Plantago rigida.

Polylepis sp. 

The only tree (and a small one at that) on the Paramo. There are many species--not entirely sure which ones we saw. They reminded me so much of the woody Rosaceae of the west (Cercocarpus, Purshia) not to mention Leucosidea and Cliffortia in South Africa, and too many Eurasians to enumerate--would love to see a cladogram of Rosaceae and see if these are related as they look...

Polylepis sp. 

Puya sp. 

We saw a lot as we drove--some you could even see the strange teal colored flowers. But no way to stop for them. The ones you could walk to had no fresh flowers. Phooey!

Ranunculus sp. 

Pretty sure it's a buttercup. Alas, no Krapfia!

Ribes cf. lehmanii 

Looks exactly some of ours. Had no idea there were so many Ribes in the Andes! Like Hypericum and Berberis--a strangely familiar echo of our flora.

Rubus roseus 

We did see this several times. We saw a lot more of the invasive Himalayan species on the paramo--very similar to the scourges of the West Coast of the U.S. This one seemed very seemly.

Here the raspberry is climbing through a Melostome.

Salvia sp.

The only Salvia we saw. But a good one!

Silene thysanodes

I stumbled on only one plant of this catchfly--which was quite reminiscent of some of our alpine sorts and other Eurasian species--another temperate climate link

Stachys elliptica

Of course, dead nettles are common in South Africa--although the bulk of the genus is unquestionably Mediterranean and Irano-Turanian. But great to find a familiar face! We saw this several times--not rare!

Stelis galeata

Nothing like this in the temperate zone: huge clumps of orchids all over the bald, rocky hillside!

Stelis galeata

Not the showiest of orchids! But fun to find!

Stellaria recurvata 

Several similar caryophylls can be found all over the Northern Hemisphere--another of our "link" species..


And then there were bromeliads--not just Puya: not something you'd stumble upon in the Rockies!

Tristerix longebracteatus 

I was familiar with this genus growing parasitically on columnar cacti in Chile--it is undoubtedly hosted by one of the plants it's grown on. A very beautiful parasite!

Vaccinium floribundum 

Almost looking like some Pacific Northwestern blueberries--this robust species grew everywhere, often a meter or more tall!

Vaccinium floribundum 

The fruit weren't quite ripe: I should have tried them anyway!

Valeriana microphylla 

There are amazing herbaceous valerians here. The genus seems much more polymorphic in South America--I don't know shrubby valerians in the northern Hemisphere (although there are plenty). This graceful shrub grew everywhere. Not the best of fragrances, incidentally

Valeriana microphylla 

Vallea stipularis
I was totally stumped by this plant--which suggested a pink Halesia. Turns out it's in the  Elaeocarpaceae--a family I've never heard of. Identified for me on a Facebook Plant Idents site my friend Janet Davis posted a stunning picture of it she took at RBG Kew.  

Werneria  (Rockhausenia) nubigena

I was shocked to see this famous Werneria is now being stuffed into a new generic name (I'm resisting). My friend and mentor Paul Maslin collected seed of Werneria--which did not thrive in Colorado. I found only one plant--and was happy to do that!

15,000' trailhead (with Barbara Young)

My friend and fellow traveler, Barbara Young, proving she made it to 15,000': our climb from here to base camp for climbing Cotopaxi at 16,000' was axed do to 80+ mile an hour winds and horizontal snow. Who knows what we might have seen and photographed had the weather been calm and clear: this Blog post would be far longer, that I'm sure of!

Beckoning the brave back to the safety of the van!

Senecio niveoaureus 

I can't leave the paramo without sharing this picture of what we supposed at first was an Espeletia: as it was, we never saw that mythical genus (it might have been along the highest part of the hike we never took on Cotopaxi): a bit of research revealed this is a native composite of the northern Andes--obviously cultivated at the elegant resort that was our home base. That's Jessie--one of our delightful hosts!

Closeup of this superb plant! The genus Senecio has a fantastic range of plant form...

Cotopaxi from the plane

The last glimpse of Cotopaxi from our airplane on our 32 hour trip home. A direct flight Quito-Denver would have only been five or six hours long...but we took a creative route from Galapagos--getting into and out of six boats, two or three buses, four plane departures and landings and quite a few hours sitting around two airports. Not that I'm complaining or anything!

It was worth it!

P.S. aside from the paramo, we spent time in and around Quito--which is in altogether a different ecosystem almost resembling chaparral), four days in the incredible cloud forest and of course the Galapagos--a mecca for all Darwinists [of which I am one]. The whole trip exceeded my fond expectations--my gratitude to Denver Botanic Gardens for making it happen, Sheridan Samano and Reefs to Rockies for mapping it out and our Ecuadorian tour company and leaders Antonio Jaramillo and Fabian Romero and my fellow tour travelers whose enthusiasm and company made the trip a hoot!


  1. Wonderful Panayoti!!

  2. Wonderful Panayoti from Steve Stehouwer

  3. You take such gorgeous photos of lovely flowers.

  4. I often wonder if the distance of your trips were put in a straight line around the equator, how many times you would have circled the globe? Possibly even, adding up all the distance of your trips, "How many times would you have travelled to the moon and back?"

  5. I'm an optical illusion, James. Believe me, I spend most of the year slaving away in my corner office at Denver Botanic Gardens (or at home). I do get away now and again--but there are salesmen and business travelers who travel far far more than I do. I just publicize my travel more than they do. I hope the carbon I expend serves in the long run to raise awareness, concern and reverence for the precious carboniferous sphere we are busily sullying.

    1. I just finished "The End of Eden: Wild Nature In The Age of Climate Breakdown."

      I live in a glass house and therefore have no stones to throw.


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