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TRAVEL ARTICLES

Enjoy a selection of our Peru articles written by our award-winning travel director.



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A Guide to Andean Flora

PAGE [ 1 ] OF 2
BY WALTER H. HUST
The puya Raimondi or titanka (Puya raimondii)
The Puya Raimondi or titanka (Puyo Raimondi), which rears 12 meters high, is the Iargest plant on Earth. Discovered by the Italian botanist alter which it is named, the plant produces around 2,000 small white flowers which can contain as many as 10 millions tiny seeds. After living for a century in the Andean heights, the puya flowers just once before dying.
The puyas grow together in clumps or homogenous groups on the sheltered slopes d flower in groups every few decades. Puya groves are the habitat of man species of Andean fauna, especially birds like the giant hummingbird, which has found these plants to be a safe nesting site and a major source of food.

The queñual or q'euña (Polylepis spp.)
The queñual is a woody tree that forms the world's highest forest, growing without difficulty at altitudes over 4,500 meters above sea level. Typical of the upper Andean reaches, the queñual has managed to adapt marvelously to places where any tree would have died long ago. One of its best defenses is its unique dark-red colored bark which looks like paper, forming numerous Iayers. That way the queñual isolates its trunk from the intense cold as well as fertilizing the ground where it grows, which generally features poor soil subject to erosion. Its small and wax-covered leaves prevent any water loss due to evaporation while its wide and twisted trunk captures the surrounding humidity.
Andean Man has used Queñual wood as a source of energy since the dawn of time, which has reduced the species significantly in much of the Peruvian highlands, driving the tree to the brink of extinction. Today, the queñual plays an important role in the reforestation of the Andes as despite being a slow-growing tree, it is able to resist the tough Andean climate. Queñual forests are also the exclusive habitat of animal species like the bird known as Oreomones froseri and several species of insect catching birds, as well as providing a haven for taruca deer, Andean foxes and pumas.

The yareta (Azorella yareta)
The yareta is a cushion-like plant from the umbeliferous family. It spreads across semi-desert like highland plains above 4,000 masl, showing its preference for areas where the sun shines in the morning. It looks rather like a resistant green cushion. Its stalks, leaves and flowers grow tightly together, forming compact, circular structures. Due to low temperatures and the Iack of oxygen, it grows slowly (1 mm a year): which makes it hard to repro-duce naturally.
Due to its high heat value, the result of a concentration of oils inside it, the yareta has been used as firewood by the men of the Andes for thousands of years. It is so widely used that at the beginning of the century k was even used as fuel to provide energy for the Arica-La Paz railway. But the continuous and unrelenting clearing has turned the yareta into an endangered species.

The cantuta (Cantua spp.)
The Cantuta is Peru's national flower. With a tubular shape and red, orange and violet flowers, the beautiful flowers of the cantuta brighten up the landscape in inter Andean valleys between 2,500 and 3,200 masl. Also called k'antu, the cantuta bushes grow on a woody and heavily branched trunk, which is highly useful to control erosion on the steep mountain slopes. It is a common custom in the Peruvian highlands to decorate the hats of single women with cantuta flowers. That way, young women let the men know of their availability as well as adding a touch of beauty to their colorful clothing.

The porporo or granadilla silvestre (Passiflora sp.)
The porporo is a close relative of the widely-known grenadine. The creeper vine produces a round fruit with a great deal of seeds set in a slightly jelly-like, bitter-tasting substance. It grows wild in the most sheltered valleys of the Peruvian highlands, preferably near streams or amongst riverside vegetation, and bears some of the prettiest flowers of any upper Andean flora. Its petals, which are usually long and clumped together in a bunch, form unique geometric designs and draw numerous species of insects that flock to the plant attracted by its abundant nectar. Even Andean settlers eat some species of porporo.

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