Orchid News # 34

Orchid conservation in Peru
                     by Isaias Rolando

"Acquaintance with good men is likened to entering a room full of Lan". Confucius said (551 - 479 BC).

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 Fong".
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 muscular systems.
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 others.
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 Orchid shows.

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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