2Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu Machu Picchu stands 2,430 m above sea-level, in the middle of a tropical mountain forest, in an extraordinarily beautiful setting. It was probably the most amazing urban creation of the Inca Empire at its height; its giant walls, terraces and ramps seem as if they have been cut naturally in the continuous rock escarpments. The natural setting, on the eastern slopes of the Andes, encompasses the upper Amazon basin with its rich diversity of flora and fauna.Platystele stenostachyaplatystele genus
4Machu Picchu bears, with Cuzco and the other archaeological sites of the valley of the Urubamba (Ollantautaybo, Runcuracay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupamarca, Huiñay Huayna, Intipucu, etc.) a unique testimony to the Inca civilization. Cuzco and the old villages still retain traces of land occupation from the Inca Empire to preserve, in a more global manner, an archaeological heritage which has become susceptible to the effects of urbanization. Furthermore, Macchu Picchu is an outstanding example of man's interaction with his natural environment.Standing 2,430 m above sea level, in the midst of a tropical mountain forest in an extraordinarily beautiful setting, Machu Picchu was probably the most amazing urban creation of the Inca Empire at its height. Its giant walls, terraces and ramps seem as if they have been cut naturally in the continuous rock escarpments. The natural setting, on the eastern slopes of the Andes, encompasses the upper Amazon basin with its rich diversity of flora and fauna.
8Orchids of Machu Picchu - Benjamín Collantes In ancient Peru, orchids had great relevance with relation to other species. For example, in 3,000 B.C., the Chavin culture already knew and appreciated a plant which they called “huaganku”. This plant was later identified as Masdevallia amabilis, a terrestrial, lithophyte orchid (it grows on rocks) of a beautiful intense fuchsia color and very variable size. Similarly, as Inca Garcilaso de la Vega states in his monumental work, “The Incas: Royal Commentaries”, the Incas also knew and appreciated a plant which they called “huiñay huayna”. In fact, the flower of this small orchid was used as a military badge by Incan nobility. The chronicler also tells how during the ceremony in which the young Inca was integrated into the Cusquenian military elite, a leaf of this plant was placed on his head.
11Telipogon Peru Pleurothallis Research on this plant carried out by this author proved its existence and found references of it made by Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello in , who also named the archaeological compound behind the Machu Picchu Mountain after it. Its scientific denomination is Epidendrum secundum and its inflorescence presents flowers with 2.5 to 3cms of diameter, and its many colors vary from white to yellow, orange, red or intense fuchsia.Nevertheless, only two decades ago very little was known about the orchids of Machu Picchu. Yet, one of the first investigations carried out between 1999 and 2000 by biologists Marco León and Benjamín Collantes offered interesting reports and new registrations for science, such as the Bulbophylum machupicchuense, Epidendrum pseudogramineun, Ponthieva collantesii, Maxillaria scandens and Odontoglossum machupicchuense species.Telipogon PeruPleurothallis
12Ongoing research has meant greater achievements in terms of knowledge of orchid diversity in the Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary, and allowed us to state that their diversity is outstanding. All these novelties were published by the author (a member of the Inkaterra Research Group) in the book Orchids in the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel (2007), a publication that reports 38 new registrations and two new species for the science From 2007 to the date, the patient but continuous research on the orchids found in the Sanctuary has allowed to reach almost one hundred new records for Machu Picchu. Despite these findings it is still not possible to establish with precision the amount of species present in the protected area, but estimates take into consideration some 500 species, the majority of which are epiphytes (they grow on plants), and the remaining terrestrial and lithophyte species.Sobralia dichotoma
13This effervescence of discoveries has contributed to increase the interest of tourists to learn about the orchids of Machu Picchu. Albeit this, ecotourism focused on orchids has still not been exploited in a rational manner except for the initiatives of Inkaterra, Orient-Express and other small but interesting botanical gardens. There is great potential in the observation of this spectacular plant group in their natural habitats. Something worthwhile mentioning is that a good part of them can be observed along the traditional Inca Trail, mainly on the stretch from Sayacmarca to Phuyupatamarca. However, one of the best places to see the orchids of the Sanctuary is indeed, the lower section of the Inca Trail, from km. 88 to km. 107, between Wiñay Wayna and Machu Picchu. In this stretch we can observe over 50 genuses, and over 100 species with the added value of the fascinating landscape beauty of the Vilcanota River valley. Undoubtedly, the best time to observe orchids in this habitat is during the rainy season (from December to April).
15Recently, a new discovery is adorning the richness of the Sanctuary; the Masdevallia antonii, which, with a floral diameter of 18cms is one of the most fascinating species. Still, for certain people, only the mere fact of learning about new registrations and species could be considered just mere curiosity. But, if we integrate adequately all the information regarding the specie and its habitat, it becomes evident that Machu Picchu´s extraordinary biodiversity makes it one of the biggest germplasm banks of Peru, and one of the many natural universities of the world. For some, among which I include myself, much of this has occurred thanks to the vision of the future of the Incas, who left us this citadel anchored amongst the steep summits of the fascinating cloud forest, “the reign of orchids”.Pleurothallis penduliflora
25Pleurothallis scabrata, with characteristic inflorescence of abundant flowers.
26Telipogon antisuyuensis Telipogon antisuyuensis. Its labellum presents a hairy callous, a structure which, from an evolution point of view, allows attracting the pollinating agent (a hairy fly) which pollinates the flower by pseudo copulation. This species is greatly depredated by poachers within the Historic Sanctuary.
31Cyrtochilum minax is the species which presents one of the biggest inflorescences since they can measure up to 3-4 in length and wind their way around tree branches. The flower measures usually 5 cms. in diameter.