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Orchids in Machu Picchu Cusco

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Orchids in Machu Picchu Cusco

There are a great diversity of orchids species of Perú, some restricted to their natural regions. They are epiphytic or terrestrial. They grow between 100 and 4,600 meters above sea level. Many of orchids species of Perú are in danger of extinction due to illegal trade and deforestation of their habitat. Of Peru's 30,000 species of orchids, more than 3,000 grow.


The diversity of microclimates in Peru allows a great variety of orchids. They have been appreciated since pre-Columbian times by the native cultures of Peru.


Recently, through an agreement between "Postal Services of Peru" and the "National Institute of Natural Resources of Peru", on February 15, 2004, stamps were issued with three Peruvian orchids: Stanhopea sp (species), Psychopsis sp (specie) and Chloraea pavonii.



It tells a popular legend, the story of a forbidden love; a beautiful princess of the Andes in love with an Inca warrior, who hid her love because she was destined for the Sun God. When her father found out, it is said that he forbade the princess to see the warrior again. Upon learning of this decision, she began to run through the Andes crying to her forbidden love, time would take care of turning her into the beautiful Waqanki orchid (Masdevallia veitchiana Rchb. F.), Bearer of the spirit of the beautiful princess, so every time his love found one of them, he would remember his beloved, and cry with sadness.


This would be the only testimony that orchids existed in the Inca empire, so much is the attachment to this legend that even these days you can listen to songs about the warrior's love and his beautiful Waqanki.

Orchids were known to both pre-Inca and Inca cultures, and this is reflected in pottery and textiles. In his work "Real Comments of the Incas" Garcilaso de la Vega tells of a beautiful flower called wiñay huayna, which in Quechua means "always young", which abounds in the Vilcanota river valley.


In 1942, the famous archaeologist Julio C. Tello named an archaeological complex, within the historical sanctuary of Machu Picchu: Wiñay Hayna, due to the abundance of orchids.


Orchid Characteristics

The Orchidaceae family is one of the largest among the superior plants and its distribution is worldwide; the described species are estimated at 25,000, distributed in 750 genera.


Their growth habits are very varied and can be separated into two large groups: epiphytes and terrestrial (within this group are lithophytes), including even an underground species (Rhizanthella gardneri), which grows in Australia. In the tropics most of the orchids are epiphytes and very showy flowers, while those of temperate zones are terrestrial and of little attractive flowers.


The orchid flowers are generally hermaphrodite and bilaterally symmetrical. In the vast majority of the flowers are made up of three external elements called sepals, two lateral and one dorsal, and three internal elements called petals, the lower one modified on a lip or lip, larger and more intense in color than the remaining.


The lip is often trilobed with fleshy ridges or a basal spur, and often with a completely different color pattern than the other two petals.



Its flowers have great diversity in color, shape, size and smell, with the sole purpose of attracting pollinators, most of which are insects, which in many cases are specific to certain species. The flower has evolved to such a degree that some take the shape and smell of the female of the pollinating insect, in order to "attract" the male of the same species. Another developed strategy is to take on the appearance of a male insect, which, when “detected” by another male of the same species within its territory, is attacked and fertilization of the flower is achieved.


The seeds are very small and are produced by thousands and even millions for each fruit. This high production compensates the difficulties for germination, such as the lack of reserve substances in the seeds, its low viability and the need for germination of a type of fungus that provides nutrients until the plant is autonomous.


97% of the orchid species need a pollinator to carry out the transfer of the pollen grains from one plant to the pistils of another, in order to produce fertilization and seed formation. The pollen of orchids is grouped into compact masses called polynyas, in such a way that by itself, or by the action of the wind, the pollen cannot get from one flower to another, so pollinators are essential to ensure their reproduction.


These pollinators are very varied and, depending on the species, they can be flies, mosquitoes, bees, wasps, butterflies, beetles and birds, especially hummingbirds, which are in charge of collaborating with the reproduction of this beautiful flower.


Orchids are normally pollinated by bees, birds, wasps, moths, beetles, flies, etc. When the orchid opens, it emits aromatic essences, inviting and seducing some pollinators to land on the flower. In Machu Picchu there is a fascinating pollination, as it is a refuge for exotic birds, and more than 300 species of Butterflies, which makes pollination an incredible multi-colored spectacle, in one of the most impressive ecosystems on the planet, made up of covered mountains of abundant vegetation that in turn is home to numerous species of birds and mammals in danger of extinction, such as the spectacled bear and the sachacabra or pudú, the smallest deer in the world.


It takes three to seven months to mature, after this time it opens. Depending on the orchids species of Perú, each fruit can release up to four million seeds that, when released and dragged by air currents or transported by pollinators, manage to germinate if they reach a trunk or branch, giving way to symbiosis with the fungus of the germination, the first leaves appearing. After 5 or 6 years the orchid will reach its adult state, stage from which beautiful flowers will sprout for several years.



Another peculiarity of orchids is found in the roots, which are completely covered by a fluffy, creamy white tissue, called a canopy, which allows it a high uptake and moisture retention.


Orchids are mistakenly thought to be parasitic because they grow on other plants. In reality, the only thing they seek is to reach a maximum of light by locating themselves in the upper parts of the trees; In addition, the orchid feeds on the humus produced by the decomposition of the leaves of the trees and on the nutrients it can collect from the rainwater, never from its host.

Orchids in Machu Picchu Cusco


Where should I look for orchids?

The regions where orchids species of Perú can be found are those that have the cloud forest ecosystem, such as San Martín, Amazonas, Piura, Huánuco, Junín, Pasco and Cusco, according to Bravo Urtecho. “Where we find orchids most frequently are regions of the central jungle due to the cloud forest ecosystem.


Contrary to popular belief, orchids are not found in the predominantly hot places. Epiphytes and lithophytes grow on trees and stones, including many of the most spectacular species, which tend to concentrate where there is constant and strong rainfall and humidity during the growing season, allowing the forest to allow light to pass through. Diversity tends to peak almost everywhere at around 1500 meters in the tropical and sub-tropical world. Typically, the environment these species need is normally rocky and mountainous, and this is exactly the case in Peru.


The main center for orchids species of Perú is the jungle eyebrow, the point where the Andes end and the jungle begins. These areas of Peru can receive more than 5 meters of rain per year. In these areas diverse valleys unite, some more humid and others drier, as well as the climate itself, where the changes move from North to South. As a result, plants vary greatly, with altitude and valley.


Distribution of orchids species of Perú



Cattleya maxima and Zelenkoa onusta are native to the dry forests of northern Peru and southern Ecuador. They are found growing on trees, and even Z. onusta is found growing on cacti. In the coastal hills you can find Aa weddelliana and Chloraea pavonii; the latter known as the Lima Orchid that inhabited the Rímac valley before urban growth.


Mountain range

Masdevallia veitchiana has earned the "First Class Certificate" award from the "Society for Orchidology of America".


The Sobralia Altíssima, was called by the ancient Peruvians Flor Inkill. The plant can measure up to 14.30 meters high. Hence its Latin name.



Phragmipedium peruvianum has been rated by Dr. Eric A. Christenson as the most glorious orchid described in two decades. The Stanhopea sp is known as Torito and the Psychopsis sp is known as the Butterfly Orchid and they inhabit the low jungle.

 Orchids in Machu Picchu Peru



Peru probably has the greatest diversity of orchids worldwide, because we have a wide range of microclimates, which circumscribe species in highly restricted areas with very specific climatic characteristics, making it difficult for many species to grow outside their environment. natural.


Currently in Peru, the Orchidaceae family is highly threatened and with many species in danger of extinction, mainly due to two factors:

  • Selective depreciation of species, carried out for export purposes by commercial collectors
  • The massive destruction of habitats due to logging and migratory agriculture, which deforest about 300,000 hectares per year, thus exterminating not only orchids, but also the native flora and fauna of the place.

Orchids in Machu Picchu Cusco

There are 425 varieties of orchids in Machu Picchu Cusco, including several new species for science.


There are more than 400 species of orchids in Machu Picchu Cusco, some of them originating from this natural area protected by the State and several are new to science.


The prestigious international magazine "Icones Orchidacearum" published in 2015 an article about the discovery of three new species unknown to science: "Epidendrum ochoar", "Epidendrum inca huamani" and "Epidendrum mormontoy".


These unpublished species were dedicated to the workers of the Decentralized Directorate of Culture of Cusco: Gustavo Ochoa Estrada, biologist in charge of the Conservation and Biocultural Management Program of the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu; Feliciano Inca Huamán Atausinchi, conservative guardian of the Llaqta of Machu Pichu, and Rolando Mormontoy López, conservative guardian of the Inca Trail of Machu Picchu.


Treks to see orchids in Perú:

Best time to see orchids in Cusco Perú:

Obviously, the rainy season (November to March) is the best time to see orchids in Cusco Perú, especially in the cloud forest; which is an area outside the Inca Trail tour between 1,800 masl and 3,000 masl.

Some orchids in Machu Picchu Cusco:

  • Masdevallia Veitchiana
  • Cryptocentrum Inaequisepalum
  • Kefersteinia Koechlinorum Christenson
  • Odontoglossum Praestans Christenson
  • Maxillaria Alpestris Lindl
  • Cyrtochilum Minax (Rchb.f.) Kraenzl
  • Chondrorhyncha Aurantiaca Senghas & Gerlach (Rchb.f.) Kraenzl
  • Bletia Catenulata
  • Oncidium Scansor
  • Phragmipedium Caudatum
  • Prosthechea Vespa
  • Pleurothallis sp
  • Epidendrum Secundum
  • Sobralia Dichotoma
  • Ida Macrophylla (Lycaste macrophylla)
  • Anguloa Virginalis
  • Kefersteinia Koechlinorum
  • Telipogon Papilio
  • Masdevallia Karineae
  • Hofmeisterella eumicroscopica
  • Comparettia Falcata
  • Masdevallia Marizae

On the other hand, there are orchids in Cusco Perú that are in process of extinction such as:

  • The Masdevallia Veitchiana or "Waqanqi", which measures from 39 to 44 centimeters whose flowers are orange.
  • The Pleurothallis, this orchid is used, by insects, for its pollination.
  • The Oncidium or "dancing lady", since any breeze moves its flowers, like a dance and its lip that resembles a dancer.
  • The Brassia with 30 species with flowers, large and showy.
  • The Encyclia that at night fills the air with the fragrances of its citrus-like perfume.
  • The Stanhopea is characterized by its complex, usually fragrant flowers.
  • The Anguloa Maxillaria that can grow on rocks as long as the humidity of the air is sufficient.
  • The Phragmipedium is an orchid with whisker-like petals.
  • The Odontoglossum, whose name is due to the lip, has calluses in the center in the form of teeth.
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