"Acquaintance with good men is likened to entering
a room full of Lan". Confucius said (551 - 479
Thousand years before the Christian era, Chinese civilizations
used orchids in their daily activities. The world "Lan" was
referred to mean "elegant woman" or "beautiful".
The fragrance of Cymbidium orchids was known as "Lan
Aristotle's student, Theophrastus (372 - 285 BC) -
Greek writer, philosopher and scientist, described
orchids in his "Enquiry into Plants".
Dioscorides (0040-0090 AD), Greek physician in his "De
Materia Medica", commented on the usefulness
of orchids as a determinant of the sex of offsprings:
Ingestion of dried tubers by woman to give female progeny
whereas the ingestion of fresh tubers by man would
produce male offspring.
The past millennium had already civilizations in the
Americas. In North America the Maya and Aztecan civilization
had contact with their native orchids. Vanilla planifolia
fruits (seed pods) used to flavor "chocolat" an
Aztec drink made from cacao and honey. This species
has over the years become the only orchid to be agriculturally
valuable. Encyclia citrina was used by natives on infected
wounds, Laelia autumnalis used for coughs, Stanhopea
hernandezii (Coatzon-coxochit) used for sunstroke,
Epidendrum pastoris was used for dysentery.
In South America, the Amazonian Andes were populated
by the Chachapuyas Civilization. They had contact and
appreciated orchids. While the search for orchids depicted
in ceramics and textiles in other Peruvian cultures
has not proven any orchid flowers, we have found at
the Museum of Leymebamba a piece dated around year
800 AC an image of an orchid flower. Searching for
more evidence of orchid use, we have found some words
used by these cultures before the Incas times.
The great Inca Civilization conquered from actual south
Colombia to Northern Argentina and Chile, throughout
south Colombia, all Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia Andean
territories and coast. To present days there are many "quechua"
words to name orchids in the Lycaste, Epidendrum,
Masdevallia, Oncidium and others. The romantic
tail and song of Waqanki is one of the best evidences
of the appreciation of orchids in the Incan Empire.
Medicinal and folkloric use to our days is a common
practice of the descendants of the Inca Civilization.
The first American book on medicinal plants "Badiano
Codex"(1552 AD) by Martin de la Cruz, Aztec
Physician, referred to Vanilla planifolia as
a useful herb for the treatment of hysteria, fever,
impotence, rheumatism, and to increase the energy of
The Spanish Empire ruled most of the Americas since
the 15th to the early 18th Centuries. North, Central
and South America to the Pacific were Spanish colonies
for about three hundred years. In late 1777 to 1787
botanists Hipolito Ruiz, Jose Antonio Pavon and the
french Joseph Dombey explored the central Andes in
Peru and described many orchids in the genera Masdevallia,
Anguloa, Bletia, Rodriguezia, Maxillaria, Sobralia,
Phragmipedium, Gongora, Epidendrum, Cattleya and
Orchid Conservation in Peru probably was started as
early about year 400 AD. The Chachapuyas Civilization
depicted a probably Oncidinae in a Pot they
used for serving food. Around Kuelap fortress we found
still many orchids they probably cultivated and appreciated
those early days.
The Incas probably did the same around the Holy City
of Macchu Picchu, "Huiñay Huayna" (Epidendrum
secundum) and " Waqanky" (Masdevallia
veitchiana) were intensively cultivated around
the Holy City.
Orchid Conservation in Peru today is paying tribute
to these two Great Civilizations of the Peruvian Andes.
The well known Orchid Garden at Macchu Picchu Pueblo
Hotel is a successful in situ Orchid Conservation reality,
visited by hundreds of tourists a year. After 20 years
it is propagating in vitro Masdevallia veitchiana and Phragmipedium
caudatum var sanderianum and others as symbols
of two species the orchid world has known and appreciated
for the last two centuries.
The Museo de Leymebamba in Amazonas, Peru, has started
the process of teaching the locals at elementary schools
how to propagate the orchids and to take care of the
habitats where they survive. The territory of the Chachapuyas
Civilization, well known as The Kingdom over the Clouds,
is the homeland for hundreds of species orchid enthusiasts
around the world have profited for many years. Also
for the discovery of great species such as Cattleya
rex, Cattleya mooreana, Phragmipedium besseae and Phragmipedium
peruviuanum syn kovachii.
The Club Peruano de Orquideas (CPO) has acquired land
in the habitat of Cattleya rex and has a fund kindly
donated by New York artist Angela Mirro for the Conservation
of Phragmipedium peruvianum syn kovachii. The
City of Moyobamba is now a member of the CPO and has a tradition
of doing Orchid Shows for the last 13 years. Locals have
adopted rescuing orchids as a permanent task before they
clear land for agriculture and pasture. This has been the
best way to protect the orchids they share now in their annual
One of the best ways to work in Orchid Conservation
is also to be able to offer legal plants to the commercial
market of new species with great commercial value.
The best two examples again are Phragmipedium besseae and Phragmipedium
peruvianum syn kovachii. Searching for the
first specie at the original site it was discovered,
we can say now that it is back again after 25 years.
There is no more high demand in the black market because
commercial orchid growers have worked all these years
to improve the specie and to offer it at low price
seedlings in Asia, the Americas and Europe. We Peruvians
are very proud now to offer legal plants of Phragmipedium
peruvianum syn kovachii to the commercial market after
only 5 years working in teams of professional growers,
lab technicians in our country and the US and Europe.
Finally Orchid Conservation is only possible with habitat
conservation. Education for conservation is the best
tool to tech at all levels: orchid collectors, local
authorities, commercial growers, CITES officers, politicians,
but the new generations. Orchids will be safe if we
first "rescue" the minds of our new habitants
of the planet.
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