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The Cutting Edge
Volume XIX, Number 2, April 2012
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REVISED GAZETTEER NOW AVAILABLE!! Our Gazetteer of Costa Rican plant-collecting locales has been revised and updated, and can be accessed at:
Of course, many new place-names have been added since our last revision was posted nearly five years ago [see The Cutting Edge 14(4): 1, Oct. 2007], and other information has been corrected, refined, or augmented. But the most radical new feature is the use of bracketed numbers—, , etc.—to unambiguously designate different places or features with the same name. Thus, if it is stated (for example) that a particular quebrada is a tributary of the “Río Blanco ,” the user will know exactly which “Río Blanco” (there are nine different ones included in the Gazetteer!) we have in mind. Check it out sometime, and let us know of any possible improvements. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Myriam Fica (MO) for dealing patiently with our many picky little revisions and posting this massive document on-line.
A ROCKY AND HARD-TO-FIND PLACE. German plant collector Hermann Wendland (1825–1903) spent about five months in Costa Rica in the year 1857, entering at Puntarenas and departing via the valley of the Río Sarapiquí. During this time he garnered many historically important plant specimens, including types, principally of large monocots (Araceae, Arecaceae, Cyclanthaceae, etc.). Thus, Wendland’s collecting localities are of no small importance. One of these, “Pedregal,” has especially intrigued us; although we had deduced its general whereabouts (in the lower Sarapiquí valley, between San Miguel and La Virgen), we have never been able to establish its precise location. It never occurred to us to consult a writer of (principally) fiction. But recently, we were informed by Costa Rican entomologist Luko Hilje [the same individual who found the death certificate of Austin Smith; see The Cutting Edge 16(2): 1–2, Apr. 2009] that famed English novelist Anthony Trollope (1815–1882) had traversed Costa Rica just two years after Wendland and written an account of his trip in which he mentioned Pedregal! We were able to track down a copy of Trollope’s The West Indies and the Spanish Main (1860), and opened it with great anticipation. Chapters 17–20, dealing with Costa Rica, do indeed make for highly absorbing reading. It is sobering to recall that, in that bygone era, the only way to reach San José and the rest of the Valle Central was via a three- to five-day mule ride from one coast or the other. Trollope describes, in vivid prose, the arduous ascent from Puntarenas (via Esparza, San Mateo, and Atenas) and the even more grueling descent from modern-day Vara Blanca (“Desengaño,” to Trollope and Wendland) to El Muelle de Sarapiquí (via Cariblanco and San Miguel, important way-stations then as now). The mules, in particular, must have suffered horribly, especially that of Trollope (who was uncommonly large and overweight, according to his own description). Just a few weeks before Trollope’s passage through the Sarapiquí valley, a young Englishwoman had lost her life by drowning at El Muelle. It was this event that occasioned Trollope’s mentioning of Pedregal (or “Padregal,” to him), as that is where this woman was interred. Luko guesses that Pedregal must have been very close to El Muelle, likely “not more than a kilometer away, as it would have been a burden to carry her corpse unnecessarily.” This makes sense, but from the scant details provided by Trollope, the only fact to be gleaned is that Pedregal was located somewhere between San Miguel and El Muelle, “not far from the Sarapiquí river”; this is pretty much what we already knew, combined with the assumption (based on the literal meaning of the name) that the site is rocky. But we do learn something about the character of the place, described as “a cocoa plantation in the middle of the forest which had been laid out and settled by an American of the United States residing in Central America.” In general, Trollope’s account is replete with sociological observations (often unflattering) and speculation about the eventual route of a trans-isthmian canal, but leaves much to be desired as a historical document. This is in large part due to the fact that it tends to omit dates and, especially, names; Trollope does give the name of the Costa Rican president at the time (Juan Rafael Mora), but seldom if ever those of his traveling companions or others encountered en route. This policy of enforced anonymity was probably mandated by Victorian decorum, but the result is highly frustrating for us. Curiously, the Spanish translation in Luko’s possession does mention some key names (the drowned woman was Mrs. Edward Joy), so the deletions from the English edition can perhaps be blamed on the editor or publisher, rather than Trollope himself.
MORE ADVENTURES IN COSTA RICA. This item might have made it into our last issue, had we been on our toes: James Mark Porter (RSA) was in Costa Rica for about two weeks at the beginning of February, collecting material of Loeselia (Polemoniaceae) to be evaluated for his ongoing monograph of that genus. Mark’s goal was to sample six populations each of Loeselia ciliata L. and L. glandulosa (Cav.) G. Don, the only members of the genus represented in Costa Rica. His travels were restricted to relatively dry areas of the northern and central Pacific slope, as dictated by the natural habitat of his quarry. In March, world traveler, botanist, benefactor, and friend Chris Davidson visited Costa Rica, where he accompanied Manual co-PI Barry Hammel and wife Isabel Pérez (INB) on a collecting trip to the Cerro Nara region (in the foothills of the Cordillera de Talamanca above Puerto Quepos) and Fila Retinto, near Palmar Norte. This time no specific taxa were sought, rather an opportunity for exploration. Some of Hammel’s photos from the Cerro Nara region can be seen here:
On the Palmar Norte leg of the trip, the group was astounded to encounter a road under construction ascending to the top of Fila Retinto, from between Palmar Norte and Puerto Cortés, along the grade known locally as “Cuesta del Burro.” This road is being built by the Costa Rican telecommunications giant ICE, reportedly in connection with the planned El Diquís (previously Boruca) Hydroelectric Project, about which more can be read at:
A patch of beautiful forest near the ridgetop, at ca. 850 m elevation, yielded minor range extensions for Dicliptera podocephala Donn. Sm., Justicia aurantiimutata Hammel & Gómez-Laur., and J. deaurata Hammel & Gómez.-Laur. (all Acanthaceae), among many other spp. Patches of forest like this, virtual islands surrounded by on-going or pending development, are at once sad and wonderful, full of so many beautiful bytes of history, fleeting before our eyes. Hammel’s photos of the aforementioned and more spp. from Fila Retinto may be viewed at the following site: