by Brian Perkins
When my clients, Mark Brown and Brian Allen of Astoria, Oregon approached me with the idea of visiting Machu Pichhu, Peru’s justly famous archeological and cultural wonder, in the rainy season , (October to April) rather than the more popular dry season (May-September), my mind drifted back to my last visit there walking the Inka trail & viewing the incredible richness of the plant life to be found there; including over 80 Orchid species native to the area.
However, certain plants only flower during the wet season. During that dry season trip I was learned that a life-long favorite Orchid, Masdevallia veitchiana could only be seen flowering during the “Epocha de Illuvia”, or season of rain in the high Andean mountains of central Peru. With Brian and Mark along, here was our chance to witness what is arguably one of the world’s most beautiful Orchid species blooming in it’s wild condition.
Originally discovered byRichard Pearce in 1866, this plant, originally coveted by the Victorians of 19th century England, for its rich colors and exotic flower shape and size, was subsequently recognized by orchid breeders & hybridizers as having great potential for creating new and beautiful hybrids.
Peru, with its extremely varied terrain, from high mountain valleys to lowland Amazonian jungle, is home to an extremely wide variety of habitat types and is, therefore considered by many to be the “Biodiversity Capital of the World”. For this reason, our trips into the Peruvian “outback” combine “Botanizing”, “Birding”, Herpetology, Ichthyology, as well as wildlife viewing, archeological learning, hiking and camping into one adventure.
For this adventure, we are searching for wild orchids in the Archeological zone surrounding the famous “Lost City of the Inkas”- Machu Pichhu. Machu Pichu is nestled on a high mountain “saddle”, perched precariously between two tall peaks, situated grandly above the majestic Rio Urubamba river canyon
The climb from the river up to the city itself is approximately 800 meters. This may explain, in part, why the Spanish conquistadors never found this site, and why in turn it was found (by Hiram Bingham in 1911) in such incredible, original condition; making it today, the premier tourist destination in South America.
The climb from the city to the top of Machu Pichhu Mountain, the subject of this story, is an additional 800 meters, making the altitude at which Masdevallia veitchiana is found in this locale to be approximately 3,400 meters above sea level.
After signing in at the control booth a short distance up the trail, we proceeded up, up,up to the top of Machu Pichhu Mountain in a driving rainstorm. The air temperature was approximately 18C with low clouds, rain and heavy banks of fog and mist swirling constantly over us. There is only one way to describe the trail: steep. It is a steep and exposed route that takes you directly to the top of this mountain. Along the way, one climbs through hillsides dense with low shrubs and trees alternating with more open grassy areas. The soil it very thin to non-existent here and wherever there was an opening in the low tree cover, one could find many species of Orchids positioned to receive the bright, high mountain sunlight when it appeared.
Sobralia, Ida, Odontoglossum, Epidendrum, Pleurothallis, are just a few of the many, many genera either in full bloom or preparing to flower, alongside a rich panoply of non-orchids.
The terrain, as you approach the summit, becomes noticeably rockier and more exposed to the extremes of this high altitude site. In the dry season, these rocky sites do receive some rain, but most of the precipitation takes the form of early morning fog and mist that is quickly burned off after sunrise. So the plants there are adapted to diurnal extremes of hot and cold, wet and dry. Even in the wettest parts of the rainy season the soil, such as it is, drains very rapidly due to its very rocky nature. Low shrubs predominate here, offering some respite from the intensity of the high mountain sun. M. veitchiana is seen most often growing in the more moderate microclimate created by these low shrubs.
When found growing the open the plants are much smaller in stature.
At the top of Mount Machu Pichhu is a small observatory where one can seek shelter from the elements, surrounded by interesting plants, commanding an outstanding view in all directions.
From the top one can get a new perspective on the Machu Pichhu site, its relationship to its surroundings, providing an insight into why its builders placed the city where it stands.
For those planning a visit to the Machu Pichhu Cultural site, nearly every month of the year can yield wonderful opportunities for seeking out Orchids in bloom in addition to the many other interesting plant species seen there. From Ferns to Begonias, the many “niche” climates that characterize this Cloud forest eco-region provide a rich trove for plant enthusiasts of all interests. For more information concerning planning a custom trip to Peru of your own, please contact WildPERU at email@example.com. Please see our website at http://www.wildeperu.net/or look for us on Facebook for further details.