If you are going on the Inka Trail to Machu Picchu trek, you may be surprised to stumble upon so many varieties of orchids along the trail!
Orchids are a well-distributed and extremely varied plant family, often with fragrant, colorful and bizarrely shaped blooms. The Orchid family is one of the largest families of flowering plants, containing around 600 genera, and comprising approximately 10% of all seed plants. All orchids are myco-heterotrophic, meaning they form a relationship with fungi in the soil in order to get their nutrients. Because of their vibrantly colorful, often strange and perfumed blooms, orchids seem to possess a certain mystique that has captured the imaginations of humans from time immemorial. In fact, dedicated orchid horticulturists and enthusiasts have been known to compete, fight over and even commit crimes in the service of their obsession.
There are literally thousands of orchid species in Peru, many of which are located in the low cloud forest eco-regions around Machu Picchu and along the famed Inka Trail. It is estimated that as many as 50% of Peru’s more than 3,000 orchid species remain unidentified by science.
Here are a few orchid species that can be found along the Inka Trail to Machu Picchu. When possible I am including both the scientific name of the orchid and the common name, along with folklore and traditional uses, when available.
Wiñay Wayna Orchid: (Epidendrum Secundum) found at Machu Picchu and along the Inca Trail, this is an orchid with multiple white to fuchsia blooms. Each flower is around an inch in width. Wiñay Wayna means “Forever Young”; Wiñay Wayna Pass on the Inca Trail takes its name from this flower. The orchid is pollinated by both butterflies and birds. Flower essences made from this orchid are said to preserve youth and vitality.
Wiñay Wayna Orchid by Filipe Fortes licensed under CC BY 2.0
Paradise Orchid: (Sobralia Dichotoma) is one of the most common orchids in the region of Machu Picchu. This orchid has 5-8 flowers per stem, and is deep pink and white in color. It’s an ephemeral orchid, lasting for only a few days and blooming between February and April. Its essence is said to have a calming and grounding effect.
Wild Orchids by Matito licensed under CC BY 2.0
Waqanki Orchid (Masdevallia Veitchiana) This orchid’s common name in Quechua, Waqanki, means “ You will Cry.” This is a single-flower orchid that grows in crevices on rocks. It has orange sepals with purple spots on the sides. A Quechua legend recounts that an Inca princess’ forbidden love for a common soldier led to the creation of this orchid.
It seems that the Inca ruler, in his anger at this love, spared the soldier’s life, but ordered him to perform severe tests in the jungle as punishment for daring to approach the young princess. The princess, knowing he would not survive the trials, grieved over his departure.
A lovely flower sprang up where her tears fell into his footprints as he fled. The Waqanki orchid is considered a national treasure of Peru.
Masdevallia Veitichiana by Trixty licensed under CC BY 2.0
These three orchid species, among many others, can be spotted on your Inca Trail trek with Apus Peru. See the following links for several fantastic options for your Machu Picchu trek: