any studies have confirmed the biological richness of the
land of the Incas, such as the researcher Leslie Holdridge, who maintains that of the 103 life zones that exist in the world, 87 of those are to be found in Peru.
The impressive green hills to be found on the coastal ecosystem are complemented by carob (Prosopis sp) and acacia (Acacia macracantha) woods, and a variety of cacti (Cereus sp.), found the length and breadth of the desert strip.
The beautiful, cold Andean landscapes are
embellished by yareta (Azorella compacta), a steep green pillow-like carpet, which grows only 1milimetre a year and is in danger of extinction. The Puya Raimondi, also in danger of extinction, grows up to 12 metres and, incredibly, only flowers once every one hundred years. Both these plants can be seen in Husacarán National Park, in the department of Ancash. Another beautiful expression of the Peruvian landscape is the encarnada cantuta (Cantua buxifolia), flower of the Incas and our national flower, which grows in the Mantaro Valley in the department of Junín.
However, without a doubt, the Andes'
major contribution to humanity is the potato (Solanum tuberosum), which in Peru alone has about 3000 different varieties. The totora is also an important product for the local economy of mountain dwellers. Growing in lakes, up to 12 species of this reed can be found in the Lake Titicaca National Reserve in the department of Puno. Other plants exist which are appreciated for their medicinal value, such as the yacón (Smallantus sonchifolius), a tuber recommended for diabetics, or those suffering from high cholesterol or obesity, which can be found in Cajamarca and Ancash. Similarly, maca (Lepidium peruvianum) has become internationally renowned, due to its high-energy value and as a fertility stimulant. This plant grows in Cerro de Pasco and Junín.
However it is in the jungle where the largest variety of plants exist. Lush trees reaching up to 45 metres, shelter many helechos, mosses and lichens, due to the high humidity in the atmosphere. Many of these trees are used locally, such as the cético (Cecropia sp.), topa (Ochroma pyramidalis), as well as better known ones such as the cedar (Cedrela sp.), and the chestnut (Bertholletia excelsa). The long list continues with quinua or cascarilla (Cinchona micrantha), the bark of which has been used since colonial times to cure yellow fever, and the chonta (Euterpe precatoria), a palm leaf which grows in the lower jungle and which has been used since time immemorial as a foodstuff.
However the best known of all jungle plants must me "cat's claw" (Uncaria tomentosa), it's name coming from the spiky curves on it's bark which are similar to the claws of that feline. It is used as a traditional Ashaninka remedy, one of the many jungle tribes which have used its bark for centuries in infusions and macerations, and its leaves as a form of tea, to combat inflammatory illnesses, such as arthritis, as well as gastritis, rheumatism, dysentery and other ills. Furthermore, this plant which grows in the centre of the Amazon forest, has properties which stimulate the immune system, thus leading to its use in the treatment of AIDS, although research is not conclusive in this particular area.
Finally, many delicious native fruits grow in the jungle too, such as the aguaje (Mauritia flexuousa), custard apple (Aona muricata)and the sapote (Matisia cordata), these being just a small sample of the immense biological richness of Peru.
(With information supplied by Dr. María Isabel la Torre, Biologist and Master in Tropical Botany).