Inkaterra Staff – Interview: Carmen Soto, Orchid Specialist

We interview Carmen Soto – resident biologist and orchid specialist at Inkaterra Machu Picchu!

When did you start working for Inkaterra? Tell us a bit about your professional background.

I started working at Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel thirteen years ago; I am a biology graduate of the Cusco National San Antonio Abad University, I am the Inkaterra NGO, Inka Terra Asociación´s, coordinator at Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel in charge of conservation projects and research on its flora and fauna.

Have you always been fascinated with orchids?

I learned about orchids at Inkaterra, my first teacher was Moises Quispe, Inkaterra´s former self-trained chief gardener at Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel. With him I discovered the fascinating world of orchids, whose family is considered the most evolved. The flowers have amazing shapes, sizes and colours; we find similarities with humans, birds, insects, butterflies, with the size of flowers ranging from two millimetres for example in the Stelis sp. or up to 80 centimetres such as the Phragmipedium caudatum, or “Lady’s slipper”

Tell us about the collection of orchids at Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel – why is it so special?

According to the American Orchid Society (AOS), Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel probably has the world´s largest collection of native orchid species in their natural habitat; it is an in-situ genetic bank with 372 species. Our guests visiting our native orchid garden are fascinated to observe that they grow in their own habitat and appreciate the flowers of various shapes, sizes, fragrances and colours; guests are given a magnifying glass so as to observe the details of each of the orchids, especially the tiniest ones.

What can guests expect to discover on a guided orchid tour at Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel? What are the most common questions you get asked?

Our guests love seeing the orchids in their natural habitat and environment and learning about ecology. What surprises them most is the size, the variety of forms of the flowers and plants they see during their visit to our orchid garden, and are delighted to see them grow among exuberant nature. Usually in the exhibitions of orchids, these are presented in pots and are hybrid species with large flowers, and a reduced range of colours.

Two new species of orchid were recently discovered at Machu Picchu, were you involved in this discovery?

The Ecology-ITA team carries out permanent monitoring. At the end of 2009 when doing the monitoring of orchid flowering, we discovered two species not yet identified and registered in the list of  Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel´ s orchids. To our satisfaction, these were new to science, of the Brachionidium genera.
Following the scientific process, we registered them, took a photo, opened a new file, took wet samples and immediately afterwards we transmitted the information to the specialist in this genus, Dr. Carlyle August Luer, an American surgeon, taxonomist &  botanist born in 1922, specializing in Orchidaceae. His special interest is the Pleurothalidinae covering about 29 genera, including Brachionidium & Pleurothallis and allied species.  He is the curator of the Missouri Botanical Garden and has described more than 1500 new species and 12 new genera. When he saw the wet samples, he informed us that they were species new to science and published them as follows:

1. – Brachionidium inkaterrense Luer & C.Soto, sp. nov.  Dedicated to Inkaterra. It is a plant of variable sizes , 10 cm or more in height, terrestrial, has leathery leaves, has a solitary flower of  1 to 1.5 cm in diameter, translucent sepals and petals with veins, deep red-purple petals with edges densely ciliate, flowers in October and has an ephemeral flowering (two to three days). One can find it over the top of the Alccamayo Mountain between 3,000-3,200 m.a.s.l. It is apparently endemic to Machu Picchu area.

2. – Brachionidium carmeniae Luer, sp. nov. Dedicated to Carmen Soto, Inka Terra Asociación-ITA´s Ecological Program Coordinator at Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel. It is a variable sized plant about 10 cm or more in height, land on Sphagnum (a moss), has clearly torn leaves, is a solitary flower of 1.5 cm in diameter., Sepals and petals are translucent and have deep red-purple veins. Flowers from August to October with ephemeral flowering (two to three days). Is distributed over the top of the Alccamayo Mountain, between 3,000 – 3,200 m.a.s.l.. It is apparently endemic to Machu Picchu area.

What is your favourite part about working for Inkaterra?

Since the beginning Inkaterra has trusted me and given me permanent support to move forward with my work and development programmes. I’m happy to be the coordinator of the Inka Terra Association-ITA NGO in Machu Picchu. We have a endangered Spectacled Andean Bear Rescue Centre, conservation and research program of orchids, birds, butterflies, bromeliads and our goal is to have a biological station and a botanical garden in Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel

What top 3 things would you recommend first-time visitors to Peru should try?

Visiting Machu Picchu to know this mixed heritage, to know the archaeological site (Cultural) and Natural (high diversity of flora and fauna and unique species)

We invite them to visit Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, the only ecological hotel in the area with beautiful and exuberant tropical gardens and houses camouflaged in the cloud forest, where they can enjoy nature (flora and fauna), and can eat delicious food prepared with organic products from our local orchard, a whole and unique experience in itself…

What’s your favourite thing about Peru?

Peru is a beautiful and unique country with mega diversity of flora and fauna, great ancient and modern culture – has the oldest civilization in America – Caral, 3,500 b.c., located 200 km north of Lima, and many pre-inca & stunning Inca cultures, the Amazon covers 65% of its territory. Its  people is very warm ad hospitable, its gastronomy has received world´s recognition, all this makes Peru one of the most attractive countries in the world to visit.