Sunday, April 30, 2023

A Mountain Bamboo in Machu Picchu

Note: Due to the rain at the time, I had to resort to phone pics at times, so I apologize in advance for the quality of those images. 

The rain and drizzle could not fully detract from the beauty of Machu Picchu, but it did hinder my ability to take good photographs. The fact that I was also part of a tour and needed to go as fast as the tour guide also affected any botanizing that I might have wanted to do.

Nevertheless, I did manage to see some interesting specimens in the rush to finish the tour, and among the grasses I found I spotted individuals that looked like bamboo.

Lining the path
Some of the bamboo-like individuals carpeted the side of the paths, while others draped over the passing people as they trudged along beneath. All had delicate and slender leaves, and were somewhat vine-like in their general habit. They were overall one of the best looking of the plants in the park, and quite distinct from the surrounding vegetation.

I decided later that they were of the bamboo genus Chusquea of the grass subfamily Bambusoideae, and after further research perhaps the species Chusquea delicatula. Members of the genus Chusquea are sometimes called the South American mountain bamboos, which I'll admit is a really cool common name.

Chusquea delicatula draped above passersby
C. delicatula itself is an Andean bamboo that has very long and thin culms. It is viney, and the nodes sport side branches that form star-like shapes (see pic below). The images of this species that I found on the web seemed to show a rather more delicate looking bamboo, but perhaps the vagaries of living in the wild instead of luxuriating as a somewhat more pampered ornamental makes a difference. Either way, I am always happy to accept corrections to my identifications. 

Nodes with side branches forming star patterns (red arrows)
Chusquea is the most diverse neotropical bamboo genus, and has the widest latitudinal range of any bamboo genus, occurring from 24 degrees North in Mexico to 47 degrees South in Chile. It also has the largest altitudinal range, and can be found from sea level to over 4000 m. Species in this genus are sometimes dominant parts of montane forests and high altitude grasslands. Machu Pichu at 2400 m is seemingly perfect for C. delicatula, and I saw quite a number of these grasses during my tour of the park.

Chusquea delicatula (?)
Unfortunately, the rain and the somewhat rapid pace of the tour meant that I could not really spend much time observing and photographing the specimens. They are beautiful plants, with their arching habit and dark green slender leaves. I hope that the next time I am in that area, I can hike the Incan Trail to Machu Picchu, and thus have a lot more time to devote to what has become one of my favorite bamboo groups.

Part of a bamboo looms over a group of rain-soaked tourists

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