Nestled high in the Andes Mountains of Peru, the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu is a world-renowned archaeological site that draws thousands of visitors every year. But beyond the well-known ruins, Machu Picchu is also home to a stunning array of orchids that are sure to captivate even the most discerning botanist.
In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the world of orchids in Machu Picchu, exploring the different types of orchids found in the region, their unique features, and the best ways to experience these botanical wonders for yourself.
The Orchids of Machu Picchu: A Diverse and Beautiful Array
The region surrounding Machu Picchu is home to a staggering 423 species of orchids approximately, making it one of the most diverse orchid habitats in the world. These orchids come in a range of colors, shapes, and sizes, with some species reaching up to 10 feet in height!
Did you know that the Sobralia virginalis orchid has a fascinating relationship with a particular species of bee? Euglossine bees, who are known to gather scents for use in their mating rituals, are reported to be attracted to the orchid’s distinctive scent and shape.
When the bee lands on the labellum of the flower, it inadvertently triggers the release of pollen onto its body. The bee then carries the pollen to other flowers, helping to facilitate cross-pollination and ensure the survival of the species.
In addition to its intriguing interaction with bees, the Sobralia virginalis orchid is also known for its use in traditional medicine. Indigenous communities in South America have used extracts from the plant for various purposes, including treating snakebites and reducing fever.
One of the most striking orchids in Machu Picchu is the Masdevallia veitchiana, also known as the “Wakanki”, (quechua word) which means (you will cry). This striking orchid features a large, bright orange flower with long, drooping petals that give it a regal appearance.
The large and showy flowers of this orchid are also known for their unique structure. The lip of the flower is elongated and tube-shaped, resembling a funnel. This design is thought to be an adaptation for pollination by hummingbirds.
Another popular orchid in the region is the Epidendrum secundum, which boasts a stunning array of pink, red and orange blooms, popular since the Inca’s time and probably used in their ceremonies, now we can find archaeological places in the famous Inca Trail with the local name of this orchid “Wiñaywayna” (quechua word) which means “forever young”.
For those interested in more unusual orchids, the Ada peruviana is a must-see. This orchid features long, thin petals that curl around each other to form a delicate, almost spider-like appearance. Its flowers are with a purple color with a bright yellow , making it a striking addition to any orchid collection.
Kefersteinia koechlinorum: This orchid is a miniature species that is possible to find in the cloud forests of Peru. It is known for its small size and delicate flowers, which are only a few centimeters across.
This orchid was discover in 2006 and named in honor of the founder of Inkaterra Joe Koechlin. It is a relatively rare species that is prized by collectors for its delicate beauty.
Another orchid that can be find is the Stelis tricardium, this orchid grows in the mountainous regions of Central and South America, where it grows as an epiphyte on trees and rocks. It is known for its small, delicate flowers and is a popular choice among orchid enthusiasts.
This orchid is known for its strong vanilla scent, which is particularly pronounced in the evening. The fragrance is thought to attract moths, which are the primary pollinators of the species.
The Anguloa virginalis, Also known as the “Tulip Orchid”, is yet another stunning species that can be find in the region surrounding Machu Picchu. With its large, fragrant flowers that resemble tulips and can grow up to 20 centimeters across, this orchid is truly a sight to behold. But it’s not just the beauty of the flower that is remarkable – its shape helps to protect the reproductive organs from rain and dew, ensuring that the species is able to thrive in the moist cloud forest environment.
Telipogon bowmanii: This orchid is found in the Andes Mountains of Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, where it grows as an epiphyte on trees and rocks. It is known for its unique flowers, with a bright yellow color and have a distinctive shape like their pollinators.
This orchid was discover in 2009 and named in honor of the botanist, Dr. Norris H. Williams Bowman Jr. It is a rare species that is known for its striking color and unique labellum shape, which has been described as resembling a bee.
Where to Find Orchids in Machu Picchu
While orchids can be found throughout the region surrounding Machu Picchu, there are a few spots that are particularly known for their abundance of these beautiful plants.
The first is the Machu Picchu Orchid Trail, a 2-hour hike that takes visitors through a lush cloud forest filled with a variety of orchids and other exotic flora. This trail is led by expert guides who are knowledgeable about the different orchid species found in the area, making it a great option for those who want to learn more about these fascinating plants.
Another popular spot for orchid enthusiasts is the Mandor Garden trail, which winds its way up the steep mountain that overlooks Machu Picchu. Along the way, hikers will be treated to stunning views of the surrounding landscape as well as a variety of orchids and other plants.
For those who want a more immersive orchid experience, there are some eco-lodges in the area that specialize in orchid tours and education. These lodges offer guided hikes through the surrounding forests, as well as lectures and workshops on orchid cultivation and conservation.
Tips for Orchid Enthusiasts
If you’re planning a trip to Machu Picchu to see the orchids, there are a few things you should keep in mind to make the most of your experience.
First, be sure to pack appropriate footwear and clothing for hiking through the rugged terrain. The climate in the Andes can be unpredictable, so it’s best to bring layers and rain gear just in case.
Second, consider hiring a guide or joining a tour group to ensure you get the most out of your orchid experience. The local guides are incredibly knowledgeable about the different orchid species in the area and can help you spot orchids that you might have otherwise missed.
Third, remember that orchids are delicate plants and should be treated with care. Avoid touching or picking them, as this can damage the flowers and harm the plant.
Finally, be sure to take plenty of photos! Orchids are some of the most beautiful and unique plants in the world, and you’ll want to capture their stunning colors and shapes to remember for years to come.
Conservation of Orchids in Machu Picchu
While the orchids of Machu Picchu are a sight to behold, they are also an important part of the local ecosystem and are under threat from habitat destruction and climate change.
Fortunately, there are some organizations working to conserve the orchids of Machu Picchu and other regions in Peru. The Andean Orchid Conservation Project, for example, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of orchids and other threatened plants in the Andean region.
Visitors to Machu Picchu can also do their part to help conserve these beautiful plants by supporting eco-friendly lodges and tour companies that prioritize sustainability and conservation.
The orchids of Machu Picchu are a stunning testament to the beauty and diversity of the natural world. From the regal Masdevallia veitchiana to the delicate Stelis tricardium, these plants are sure to captivate anyone with an interest in botany or horticulture.
Whether you’re a seasoned orchid enthusiast or just someone who appreciates the wonders of nature, a trip to Machu Picchu to explore these incredible plants is an experience not to be missed.
So why not start planning your visit today? With proper preparation and a spirit of adventure, you’re sure to have an unforgettable time exploring the orchids of Machu Picchu.