The department of Cusco, one could say without fear of falling into unnecessary mistakes, has it all. It is, shall we say, a small country within another. Its varied climates, product of the profusion of ecological floors, its impressive relief and its proximity to the tropical zone of the planet determine the existence among its folds of a unique, incomparable biological diversity. We must not forget, furthermore, that Peru is considered one of the seven megadiverse countries on the planet due to the varied ecosystems created by the Andes mountain range when it rises above the continent and to the action of the marine currents that bathe its extensive coastline.
Geography treatises indicate that in the deep ravines and intermediate zones, forests formed by numerous tree, coniferous and broadleaf species are typical. In the lower areas, on the other hand, ferns, reedbeds, alders and ornamental plants with seasonal flowers are common. In the Quechua and Puna zone, ichu, queuña, waqo, achupalla de monte, raqui-raqui, moqo-moqo, jucucha, huejontoy, tabaquillo, paico and tintin predominate. Full life and nature on the roof of the world.
The situation of the native forests of Peru is doubly serious, by cutting them down or burning them, one of the activities that most damages Andean ecosystems, not only is the provision of valuable environmental services lost, but the flora and fauna that allowed the insurgency of life in the territory we occupy.
The Andean forests are varied, within each of them different tree species thrive. On the Ausangate Route, where queuñas, chachacomos, unkas, tayankas, wancartipas, wamaq’eros, chuyllures, jalastos, siracas, t’astas, capulí-pishay endure, natural life makes the difference.
The following are the most notable trees on the Lares Trek:
The Queuña (Polylepis spp):
It is an extremely resistant tree to the altitude and to the cold typical of the Andean high-plains. It has been proven that it can live beyond 4,500 meters above sea level. The Queñuales, especially those found in the Vilcanota mountain range, contain a very varied fauna and flora that is characterized by its high level of endemism. The forests of this species regulate the climate, prevent soil erosion and store large amounts of water that ultimately feed the course of springs and puquios.
The Pisonay (Erythrina edulis):
Pajuro, bean or red cedar is a tree common to the temperate zones of Peru, where it can be found adorning the main squares of some of its cities with its size. Its leafy foliage, its red flowers and its incomparable size distinguish it from other native trees, which are generally small and rugged. It is known that it was cultivated and used by the Incas. Its fruits, which are tasty, serve as food and its leaves, flowers, bark and roots are used to cure various ills and as a contraceptive in rural areas.
The Chachacomo (Escallonia resinosa):
It is a tree with a bright reddish trunk that was used by the Incas to dye beige cotton and wool fabrics. Its leaves were used to prepare infusions useful as a brain tonic. Its wood is an excellent fuel and chaquitacllas are made from its branches, the best-known plow of the ancient Peruvians; Possibly, the keros, the ceremonial vessels that dazzled the conquerors, were also made from the wood of this tree.
The Alder (Alnus jorullensis):
Huayau or Lambrán is a good-sized tree that can reach 10 to 15 meters in height and is distributed between 2,500 and 3,300 meters above sea level throughout the Peruvian highlands. It grows in the ravines and on the edges of the farms: it is a tree that, due to its open crown that allows solar radiation to filter, does not disturb the growth of agricultural plants.
The Ccolle (Buddleja coriacea):
Qolle, Quishuar or Puna Quishuar is a tall, straight tree with a dark green, globose crown. In the times of the Incas, its wood was used for the construction of houses and the manufacture of instruments and its leaves as an effective remedy against rheumatism. Currently, the peasants use it as a living fence or “retaining wall”. Its foliage provides good fertilizer to the farms. Apart from the uses mentioned, the Ccolle provides excellent quality wood for the manufacture of beams, doors, windows, lintels and for the elaboration of agricultural tools (yokes, plows, tacllas) as well as for handicrafts and props. It is resistant to rot and fungi even when it remains in the water, hence its usefulness for making gates and parts of irrigation canals.
The Sauco (Sambucus peruviana):
O Tilo is a 3-6 m tall tree that in good conditions can reach 12 meters. Its fruit, with a pleasant flavor, is edible and is used to make jellies and jams. A strong wood is obtained from its trunk, which is highly valued for construction in rural areas. Its leaves are used to dye and from its stems quenas and blowers are made to fan the fire. It is also used as a live fence, windbreak and pest repellent.
The Molle (Schinus molle):
It is one of the most visible trees in the towns and roads of the middle part of the province. It has been used since ancient times to cleanse and detoxify the urinary tract and kidneys. Also useful to combat rheumatism, with the branches, leaves and fruits a very effective bath is prepared to combat the evil of fright. The ash is used to make soap and the bark to dye wool or cotton yellow. Its fruits, dry and ground, are an ideal substitute for pepper. It is antifungal and a powerful remedy for bacterial and viral respiratory infections. It also serves, among other things, as an insecticide.
The Quishuar (Buddleja incana):
A tree that grows up to 8 m high, is characterized by having a straight stem and cracked outer bark, light ocher in color. It is common in the highlands of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. It tolerates high stoniness and its moisture requirements are moderate. Due to its dense foliage, it is used to make perimeter fences and protection against cold winds. Due to its excellent quality, durability and resistance, it is used in construction, cabinetmaking and props.
The llama (Lama glama) and the alpaca (Vicugna pacos) are the two most representative species of the varied fauna of the province of Quispicanchi and much of the Peruvian Andes. In our country, apparently the domestication of both South American camelids must have occurred five thousand years ago. The guanaco (Lama guanicoe) and the vicuña (Vicugna vicugna), the two remaining species of the quartet of these Andean mammals, have survived in the wild to this day. From an ecological point of view, South American camelids have perfectly adapted to the environment they inhabit. The natural grasses that they consume are appropriate for their nutrition and the padding of their hooves does not destroy the delicate soils of the high Andean plateaus where they are usually raised by the descendants of the llamichos and paqocheros of the high mountains of our country. Vicuñas and guanacos share the grasslands of the highlands of Cusco with an ungulate well known to walkers who go around Ausangate.
The taruca (Hippocamelus antisensis):
Andean deer, a deer of great beauty that inhabits the highest areas of the Vilcanota mountain range, in grasslands, very attentive to the presence of humans. Herbivorous, it usually feeds on lichens and wild grasses and, like deer, the species has striking antlers, in this case a double horn on the forehead. The loss of the quality of its species is in a vulnerable situation and it is estimated that in thirty years it will have lost, if the current conditions of degradation continue, thirty percent of its habitat.
Vizcacha (Lagidium viscacia):
A rodent related to chinchillas, very common in Peru, central Bolivia, throughout Chile, and in western Argentina. It could easily be confused with wild rabbits: its yellow or gray fur is thick and soft except for the tail, which is black. His ears are covered with hair. The vizcachas feed on ichu and are a food attraction for the wild cats that live in the Ausangate mountains:
The Andean Cat (Leopardus jacobita):
Osqollo, osqo misi or chinchay a severely threatened feline whose population in Peru is less than 2,500 individuals and the Pajonal cat (Leopardus colocolo).
Andean Puma (Puma concolor):
The second largest feline in America and fourth in the world after the lion, the tiger and the jaguar. Common in our continent from Canada to Patagonia, the variety that inhabits the Peruvian Andes is capable of adapting to almost all our ecosystems. It is characterized by being agile, elusive, silent and strong. Avoid unnecessary confrontations with other animals, including humans. Similar in appearance to African lionesses, males can weigh up to 100 kilograms, while females weigh up to 64 kilograms. It was a sacred animal in the time of the Incas, so much so that the city of Cusco, the Llaqta Sagrada, was built following the outline of its extraordinary anatomy.
If you are lucky and drive carefully along the rural roads of the province, you may come across some of the fabulous local fauna.
Lares is the habitat of the white-eared opossum or carachupa ittuto (Didelphis albiventris), the Andean long-eared bat (Histiotus montanus), the red fox or atoj, also the Andean fox (Pseudalopex culpaeus), the skunk, añas or skunk (Conepatus chinga). , the weasel or achocalla catay (Mustela frenata), the pajonal mouse (Akodon subfuscus), the Darwin mouse or big-eared mouse (Phyllotis darwini), the wild guinea pig, guinea pig or cowi kututo (Cavia porcellus), the sacha guinea pig, guinea pig bighorn or poronccoy (Cavia tschudii).
Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus):
For being a bird linked to the history of the men and women who populated Cusco and the Andean world. The Incas considered it “messenger of the gods” (Apu Kuntur) and together with the puma and the snake it was part of an animal trilogy linked to the sacred. The imposing bird is represented at one of the points of the chakana and one of the most visited rooms in Machu Picchu is precisely the so-called “Temple of the Condor”. Due to its ability to fly up to heights of 5 thousand meters above sea level, the condor was the only animal in the Inca worldview capable of communicating with the world of the gods and the stars. In Peru, the species is in danger as a result of the loss of its habitats and death by poisoning due to the profusion of carcasses to control livestock predators (pumas and foxes). According to the Red Book of Endangered Wildlife.
Giant Hummingbird (Patagona gigas):
A distinguished inhabitant of the middle part of the province is the Andean hummingbird or giant hummingbird, the largest hummingbird in the world. Intrepid aviator, it easily reaches 23 cm in size. Its beak, straight and thick, measures 5 cm.
It is generally found in arid habitats between 2,000-3,400 meters above sea level where it frequents shrubs, trees and cacti, preferably columnar. It is very territorial and aggressive, often chasing other hummingbirds while hovering with remarkably slow wingbeats, keeping its tail open. Their diet includes nectar and flying insects.
The Huallatas (Chloephaga melanoptera)
The Andean goose or huashua inhabits open land with short grass in marshy areas of the humid valleys. Also the surroundings of lakes and ponds. They are found in pairs or in scattered flocks, males are usually larger than females and reach a size of about 90 cm. Both are white with a pink beak and legs.
Another inhabitant of swamps, lake shores and flooded fields is the yanavico (Plegadis ridgwayi) or puna ibis, common between 3,200 and 4,500 meters above sea level.
Other very frequent birds in the areas visited by guides and hikers: neotropical cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) or cushuri, Andean duck (Anas flavirostris), puna duck (Anas puna), white heron (Ardea alba), huaco heron (Nycticorax nycticorax ), Andean bandurria (Theristicus branickii), puna hawk (Buteo poecilochrous), Andean caracara (Phalcoboenus megalopterus), black-winged stilt (Himantopus melanurus), cinnamon-tailed sickle-billed hummingbird (Eutoxeres condamini), Andean woodpecker, woodpecker or gargacha (Colaptes rupicola puna), royal cinclodes or royal churrete (Cinclodes aricomae), ash-breasted bull or queñuales bull (Anairetes alpinus), chiguanco thrush (Turdus chiguanco chiguanco), grosbeak-ventidorado (Pheucticus chrysogaster), yellow-billed cacique (Amblycercus holosericeus).
During the route of all the sections of the Lares Trek, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems can be seen, whose conditions and distribution are affected by the Andes mountain range, for this reason all these formations are considered Andean ecosystems, they are the least known and the most threatened, mainly by deforestation and degradation due to the expansion of agricultural activities.
Life zones and ecosystems of the Lares Trek
The section from Lares to Huaran, is made up of different ecosystems, the climatic characteristics and the physiography of the tropical Andes constitute a unique region with a high diversity of habitats, product of complex spatial and environmental gradients of the Andean mountain range, in addition to the landscapes They are made up of associations of grasslands and puna grass, humid-thorny thickets and high Andean forests, where a high diversity of flora and fauna develops, as well as important endemic species; This variety of plant formations due to climate and physiography allow man to grow crops of different varieties, favoring the expansion of populations in these areas.
a.- Humid Scrub of Inter-Andean Valleys:
This plant formation is characterized by the predominance of a dominant bushy vegetation, semi-dense and they can measure up to 3 meters in height. These thickets develop in the ravines located between the inter-Andean and Meso-Andean valleys, from 2,500 to 3,800 meters above sea level.
Associated with the bushy vegetation it is possible to find some tree species of humid habitat. The most frequent species are: Escallonia resinosa, Escallonia mytilloides, Baccharis latifolia, Baccharis chilco, Baccharis sp, Berberis boliviana, Berberis carinata, Berberis lutea, Monnina salicifolia, Oreopanax sp, Brachyotum sp, Mirsine andina, Duranta armata, Saracha punctata and others. At present, a small proportion of herbs and shrubs are extracted from these thickets for domestic purposes (medicine, firewood, etc.), they are also subjected to extensive grazing by cattle and sheep, as well as opening areas within these thickets for agricultural activity.
b.- Sub-humid Wooded Scrub of Inter-Andean Valleys:
They are characterized by the predominance of shrubby vegetation associated with tree species, which are scattered; these wooded thickets can reach heights of 4 to 5 meters. This type of vegetation is located from 1,300 to 3,800 meters of altitude and develops on undulating to very rugged reliefs of the inter-Andean valleys of the Vilcanota Basins.
The tree species that occur in these thickets are: Oreopanax ichnolobus, Saracha punctata, Saracha spinosa, Duranta mandonii, Duranta armata, Gynoxys spp, Hesperomeles escallonifolia, Smallanthus sp, Boconia sp, Vallea stipularis, Escalonia resinosa, Escallonia myrtilloides, Polylepis racemosa, etc. The species of shrub layer are predominant in this type of vegetation, whose most important species are: Colletia spinosisma, Baccharis odorata, Baccharis chilco, Barnadesia horrida, among others.
At present, these wooded thickets are subjected to a selective extraction of shrub species for domestic use, and a small proportion of shrub and herbaceous species are used for all kinds of purposes.
c.- Puna grasslands:
It is characterized by the presence of grasses or grasses with a height of 50 cm, these grasslands are developed in areas with moderately inclined slopes and on stony slopes: The species that predominate in these grasslands are: Agrostis perennas, Aciachne pulvinata, Agrostis pulvinata, Calamagrostis rigescens, Calamagrostis vicunarum, Calamagrostis amoena, Calamagrostis heterophylla, Festuca orthophylla, Festuca dolychophylla, Festuca orthophylla, Poa spp; These grasslands are associated with shrubby herbaceous vegetation, whose important species are: Hypochoeris taraxacoides, Alchemilla pinnata, Arenaria lanuginosa, Cerastium triviale, Bomarea dulcis, Bomarea dolichophylla, Halenia bella, Gentianella sp, Gentiana postrata, Arenaria lanuginosa, Perezia pungens, Werneria villosa, Bidens triplinervia, Gnaphalium dombeyanum, Gamochaeta americana, Gamochaeta purpurea and others.
d.- Puna grass:
This type of vegetation is located in the highest parts and is characterized by associations of grasses and herbs of small size, they are located between the warmest parts and less exposed to climatic variations and edaphic conditions. favorable. The most important species of this plant formation are: Calamagrostis vicunarum, Calamagrostis minima, Calamagrostis ovata, Calamagrostis rigescens, Stipa mucronata, Oriethales integrifolia, Poa humillina, Paspalum pigmaeum, Carex sp, Agrostis sp, Hypericum sp, Aciachne pulvinata, Lepechinia meyenii, Festuca rigescens, Muhlembergia peruviana, Paspalum pigameum, Aciachne pulvinata, Azorella biloba, Hypochoeris spp, Eleocharis retroflexa, Luzula peruviana, Trifolium sp, Gentiana postrata, Gentianella spp, Muehlembeckia volcanica, Solanum acaule, Viola sp, Valeriana sp, Senecio sp, etc.
e.- Andean wetlands:
They are characterized by presenting dense associations of herbaceous stratum species, which occupy places with gentle to slightly inclined slopes and on soils covered with water, due to the presence of streams from water sources of glacial origin or of aquifers. They are home to a diversity of herbaceous plant species
f.- Humid Forest of Inter-Andean Valleys:
This type of forest is characterized by being located in the humid ravines of the inter-Andean valleys, from 2,600 to 3,800 meters of altitude. They present a dense tree vegetation with a height of up to 10 meters. The tree species that predominate in these forests are: Myrcianthes oreophylla, Myrcianthes indiferens, Duranta mandonii, Duranta armata, Hesperomeles lanuginosa, Weinmannia spp, Citharexylum herrerae, Citharexylum dentatum, Gynoxys aff nitida, Gynoxys longifolia, Buddleja montana, Escallonia resinosa, Escallonia myrtilloides, Polylepis racemosa, Saracha punctata, Sambucus peruviana, Alnus acuminata, Aegiphila morototoni, Juglans neotropica, Clusia sp, Erythrina edulis, Buddleja coriacea, Buddleja longifolia, Myrsine pseudocrenata, Myrsine andina, Hesperomeles escallonifolia, etc. The most important shrubby species are: Brachiotum naudinii, Baccharis odorata, Baccharis chilco, Baccharis latifolia, Piper sp, Maytenus sp, Acalipha aronioides, Barnadesia horrida, Senna birrostris, Berberis spp, Rubus sp, Calceolaria engleriana, Calceolaria spp, Satureja boliviana, Rubus roseus.