Plants along the Salkantay Trail

One of the best things about the Salkantay Trail is that it takes you through at least five* different Andean habitats, each with its own unique flora and fauna. And while everyone wants to spot the animals, you’re much more likely to see plants along the trail because 1) there are more plants than animals and 2) they don’t move so they don’t flee when you come down the trail. So it can be far more rewarding on a hike to take some time and admire the plants.

Below are some of the plants we encountered on our hike along the Salkantay Trail in January 2017. There’s an abundance of plant life everywhere on the trek, from the familiar to the strange, and the rainy season meant a plethora of flowers in bloom and in some places, fresh fruit. I’ve tried to identify species where I can, but if you have any info please feel free to comment below.

Alpine Habitat

This ecosystem stretches from Salkantaypampa to a few kilometers after the village of Wayramachay and includes the Salkantay Pass. Plants here grow low or spindly, battered by cold and high winds on the mountainside.

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Small, stunted lupines (Lupinus mutabilis) grow near the Salkantay Pass
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We thought this might be a type of dandelion, but on closer inspection it looks closer to wood avens (Geum urbanum). However, that’s a Europe/Middle East plant, so this could be a close relative or an invader.
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I’m guessing this is an actual member of the dandelion family, from it’s cheerful yellow flower to the shovel-shaped leaves that grow in a cluster.
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The radial leaves of an unknown annual crowd surround a tuft of moss along the trail.
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Unripe wild blueberries growing along the trail, identified mostly by their small, leathery leaves and the unmistakeable crown n the bottom of the berry.

Tropical Highland Wet

The alpine region gave way to a hot, humid, and much more tropical-feeling region that included an abundance of plant species. Plant size ranged from tiny mossess and small annuals to huge brambles, shoots, and trees. Some species even eschewed dirt and grew on other plants.

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An unripe blackberry grows along the trail. Judging by the size of the fruit and the location, I’d guess it’s the eponymous Andean blackbery (Rubus glaucus).
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I’m not sure what this flower is, but I’ve ruled out fuchsia and cantua. My best guess is Alstromeria isabellina, but even that doesn’t seem quite right.
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Young leaves of a native bamboo (probably Chusquea spp.) still wet with morning dew.
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The strangest plant we saw on our trip; I couldn’t find any leads on it online.
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A native orchid known as Wiñay Wayna in Peru. It’s scientific name is Epidendrum secundum. We also saw a similar plant in a New Zealand garden, so you might be able to get this orchid species commercially.

Tropical Highland Semi-arid/Disturbed Habitat

As we walked along the vehicle road to Playa, there air seemed to be hotter and drier and the dirt appeared to be harder packed. This may be an actual change in climate, or just be the case on the day we were hiking. Either way, this ecosystem is different than the one along the trail; the plants are different, probably because the area is disturbed by frequent human activity.

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A yellow-flowered legume along the trail, perhaps of the genus Retama. You can easily identify legumes by the presence of pea/bean-like pods and the hooded flowers. You could also dig up the roots and find they have nodules, but that wouldn’t be very nice.
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An unknown, rather fuzzy plant growing along the trail.
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A wild bee or wasp pollinates an unnamed wildflower. I couldn’t get any leads on this one, either.
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A giant wild taro plant grows alongside the trail.

Again, if you have info on any of these unidentified plants, let me know in the comments! Cheers,

– Natalie

*There are probably more than five habitats, but this is what I could identify on the hike: conifer forest (may be manmade), grassland/pampas, alpine, tropical highland wet, tropical  highland semi-arid

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