The Costa Rican skullcap belongs to the Lamiaceae - a family of over 7,000 species that includes many culinary herbs, such as basil, rosemary, thyme, lavender and mint, as well as the tropical hardwood tree, teak. This particular plant is in the genus Scutellaria, having close to 400 species and is the second-largest genus behind Salvia (sage), which was highlighted in one of our previous posts. Just like sage, several species of skullcap also possess medicinal properties and are often used in herbal medicines.
As both the common and scientific name suggest, the Costa Rican skullcap is native to the humid rainforests of Costa Rica but can also be found in Panama and Nicaragua. The latter part of its common name ‘skullcap’ refers to the shape of the calyx at the base of each flower, which resembles a miniature medieval helmet.
This ornamental species is relatively rare in cultivation and prized for the warm-coloured flowers that stand out above its dark green foliage. This is because red and orange flowers are rare in the mint family, which often have purple, blue, or white flowers. This trait has also earned this shrub its other common name, the scarlet skullcap. Like other plants with red, tubular flowers, this species is bird-pollinated, specifically by hummingbirds in its native range.
The next time you visit Cloud Forest, try to spot the fiery flowers of this Central American mint relative past the grand waterfall as you make your way towards the mountain!
Written by: Hazri Boey, Senior Horticulturist (Gardens Operations)
Hazri not only surrounds himself with plants at work; he has an abundant collection at home too! Having nurtured a keen interest in nature since young, he might have gone on to become a zookeeper caring for owls or sloths had it not been for his plant identification talent!