Great book for identifying useful trees and bushes in Peru

Dec 29, 2003
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Incredible pictures, great descriptions, book is in Spanish and English.

Cons:Only 45 species, identifying characteristics could be better described.

The Bottom Line: Although this book is geared for a certain population, the descriptions are great and no other book exists to describe the flora in this region.

In General: This is a 102 page book that details 45 species of trees and shrubs of an area in Peru, called the ‘Sacred valley of the Incas’ – a region surrounding Cuzco (Cusco) and the famous Inca Tail. Prefacing the description of the species is a nine page introduction, which goes through the different climates and elevations of the area, and describes the general types of flora found at different locations.

Audience: This is a book that would not appeal to the general public. Those who may be interested in the book include those native to Peru, those who are going to the mountains of Peru, particularly the city of Cuzco or those planning to hike the Inca Trail, or those interested in exotic plants from this region of the world. Additionally, since the book is written in both English and Spanish, it is a good way to learn basic words relating to nature, e.g. tree, shrub, branches, the names of native fruits, etc.

Details and Highlights:
1. The pictures are very useful. There is usually a problem with identification books in that it is hard to match a specimen with a picture, but not here! There is always a full color (and typically beautiful) picture of the full tree/shrub in the natural habitat, and a close up color picture of a few leaves, or the fruit, or a branch (commonly all three) that are critical in the proper identification.

2. The descriptions are useful and practical. The species are listed alphabetically by the species common name. Right next to the common name is the taxonomic genus and species. It should be noted that there is no index. As for the descriptions, First, the size of the tree/shrub is given. Second, the altitude of its range is given. In the Spanish text, these sizes are in meters, but in the English text, they are in feet. Third, a brief description of the main characteristics is given. This is the only weak point of the book. I feel that the descriptions are too abbreviated. Fourth, the traditional uses of the plants, and specifically which part of the plant and how to prepare it, are given. For example, “Peasants use it as a hedge. The flowers are good for respiratory problems and bronchitis. The Incas used to burn the Llaulli (name of the plant) and throw in it birds of different species. With this ritual they diminished their enemies strength”.

3. The book is written in both Spanish and English. For a Gringo like me, it makes for a great conversation starter for locals and taxi drivers to point at trees that are described in the book and say the Spanish name with an inflection in my tone. Locals were always surprised at my curiosity and my identifications were usually dead on.

4. The book is practical. This is perhaps the reason I purchased the book. I was able to positively identify 10 of the 45 species. These included the national flower of Peru, the beautiful red bell-shaped Cantuta, and an edible cactus, the Tuna, which my friend and I had as snacks one afternoon on a hike. We also identified many trees in parks around the city of Cuzco and in the surrounding hills. I did fail, however, to find the Lucuma, a tree that allegedly produces a “delicious fruit”. Furthermore, we did not find Lucuma ice cream in local shops, which “is found in every city in Peru” – perhaps the fruit has a different name. I guess I will have to go back down to investigate this issue further.

The Bottom Line: This is a great book for identifying the trees and shrubs of the Cuzco region, a good way to learn some Spanish, and it has value for those interested in living off the land.

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