In this post we list resources we found useful for understanding the plants of Peru, and in particular, ones you might see in and around Machu Picchu. Some of the resources we used to help identify plants while in Peru. Other resources we discovered after we returned.
In Peru, we did the Machu Picchu: 10-Day Lodge Trek sponsored by REI. Our route was from Mollepata to Machu Picchu using the Salkantay route. From Mollepata we headed north, then west around the west side of Salkantay mountain, over the Salkantay Pass. We stayed at each of the four Mountain Lodges of Peru locations. At the Central Hidroelectrica Machu Picchu project, we took a train to Aguas Calientes, at the base of Machu Picchu.
Ten Resources About Plants of Machu Picchu
1. Flowers of Machu Picchu, Including orchids (Flores de Machu Picchu, Incluye orquídeas) by Gino Cassinelli Del Sante and Daniel Huamán Chang. We did not know about this book before leaving on the trip, but once in Cusco, the book seemed to be everywhere. We bought our copy in the Museo de Plantas Sagradas, Magicas y Medicinales. This book is the most helpful for identifying flowers in and around Machu Picchu. For the approach to Machu Picchu on the Salkantay route, it was less useful.
2. Presenting Peru & Machupicchu by Lic. Saydí M. Negrón Romero.
We purchased this book on the steps of the Quorikancha in Peru, from the author herself, nonetheless! It is a handy book that covers many aspects of Peru and Machu Picchu. While it’s not a comprehensive guide for plants (there are a few pages dedicated to plants), it is still a great little book to carry with you.
3. Trees and Bushes from the Sacred Valley of the Incas (Árboles y Arbustos del Valle Sagrado de los Incas) by Gino Cassinelli Del Sante. This is one of the three books we purchased before leaving on the trip. Even though we did not spend any time in the Sacred Valley, the information in the book was still useful for identifying plants on our trek. The information in the book is in both English and Spanish.
4. Flowers of the Inca Trail by Oscar Olazábal Castillo. This was a book loaned to us by our guide. It was very useful for identifying flowers we were seeing on the trail during our trek from Mollepata to Machu Picchu.
5. Flores Silvestres de la Cordillera Blanca (Wildflowers of the Cordillera Blanca) by Helen and Kees Kolff. Published by the Mountain Institute, this book was also loaned to us by our guide. Note that it covers the Cordillera Blanca region in the Ancach Region of Peru and Machu Picchu and the Salkantay trek are in the Cusco Region, which is south and east. See Regions of Peru.
Front and Back Covers of Flowers of the Inca Trail (left) and Wildflowers of the Cordillera Blanca(Right)
6. Peru: Travellers’ Wildlife Guides by David L. Pearson and Les Beletsky. This guide is a bit overwhelming at first glance, especially if you are travelling to just one part of Peru (like Machu Picchu). It’s strength is that you can keep coming back to it to build your general understanding of ecosystems and common plants and animals. The section on plants contains illustrations of some common plants found throughout Peru and is of limited use if you are just visiting Machu Picchu. This is the second of the three books we purchased before the trip.
7. Biogeographica: Plants, Man and the Land in the Vilcanota Valley of Peru by Daniel W. Gade. This is the third of the three books we purchased before the trip. From the preface: “The content of this book goes beyond the realm of most treaties on ethnobotany, and is better described as a ‘cultural biogeography’.” While definitely not a field guide, it has a lot of useful information. For example, while near the town of La Playa, we saw the tamarillo or tree tomato (Solanum betaceum) and wakatay (Tagetes minuta) as a seasoning herb. Both are described in Biogeographica (page 70) under the section Plant Use in Peasant Life. However, it’s the kind of information you might read ahead of time, but would not retain. It took the walking, the heat, the awe of seeing the plants, and the asking of the question “What’s that!?” to really make it real. That said, this book (like Traveller’s Wildlife Guide) is the kind of book you can pick up to validate something you saw and go deeper.
8. Field Musem Plant Guides > Rapid Color Guides (plants/Peru) from the Field Museum, Chicago contains many very helpful guides. You might consider printing this out and/or taking them electronically. Some particular helpful guides include:
- Conspicuous Plants of Machu Picchu
- Ericaceae of Machu Picchu
- Orchids of Machu Picchu
- Medicinal Plants of Peru
9. Inkaterra Hotel Field Guides. The Inkaterra Hotel in Machu Picchu Pueblo (where we stayed) has guided bird watching and plant discovery tours. Their orchid guide [PDF] lists orchids in their gardens.
Plantas Medicinales del Peru / Field Museum
3. Biodiversity Heritage Library – Flora of Peru. These are resources for specialists.
4. The Museo di Sitio Machupicchu, Jardín Botánico has lists of what’s in the garden that includes common names for plants.
5. Videos of medicinal plants: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oyJKt1w2Q8 (part 1 - 4). They are a little hard to understand, but there is some useful information.
6. Blogs and web sites:
- The v e r d e c h a c o blog is about plants that seem to be specific to South America.
- Inca Trailz has a few common flowers. A summit post entry has some Andean flowers.
- Some South Amerianc Plant and Nature pictures information.
- A flickr stream of nice photos (but with little identifying info).
- One account of the a hike on an Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with emphasis at flora.
- One internal ministry report that discusses forests. This section of the report talks about families of plants and specific species. While this section has lists of plants with common tree names like “toroq” (my favorite).
8. Ethnobotany of Chinchero, an Andean Community in Southern Peru. Fieldiana Botany, New Series No. 24, 1-126. Chinchero is Just north of Cusco. This ethnobotany study contains good information about common uses for plants and meanings of some plant common names, among other things.