San Diego Targets Cuzco, Peru
by Eric A. Christenson, PhD

Reprinted from the October 2000 issue of Orchids -- The magazine of the American Orchid Society

The San Diego County Orchid Society’s Conservation Committee, one of a few societies in the U.S. with an aggressive approach to orchid conservation, has funded a grant for $581 to purchase books for the Vargas Herbarium of the University of Cuzco, Peru, and for the personal library of a most promising young University student, William Nauray. Nauray is actively studying the orchids of Wiñay Wayna, an orchid-rich, cloud-forest portion of the Historical Sanctuary of Machu Picchu.

The Vargas Herbarium (CUZ), which is the primary repository of orchid specimens from southern Peru, contributed substantially to the Orchids of Peru by Charles Schweinfurth, written in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. Most of the herbarium was inventoried and photographed in 1999 by a grant from the Orchid Research Fund of the Institute of Systematic Botany of the New York Botanical Garden. Nauray has a remarkably astute eye for miniature orchids in the field and has contributed many new, well-documented distribution records for Cuzco. Among his collections are the first Peruvian collections of Pachyphyllum tortuosum, previously thought to be a Venezuelan endemic, as well as Stellilabium pogonostalix and Telipogon venustus. His collections, which are still under active study as part of his thesis, include a number of unidentified collections that are either new to Peru or, more likely, new to science. Visiting Nauray in Cuzco represents the very essence of cutting-edge new discoveries — a truly exciting, hands-on time. Access to his study set significantly contributed to the Orchids of Machu Picchu (in press), the first eco-tourist guide to the orchids of the Sanctuary published under the auspices of the Finnish Government. This work describes more than 250 species of orchids distributed in some 71 genera and represents the first orchid florula (treatment of a small flora) for Peru. My Peruvian colleague, David Bennett, and myself are quite impressed by Nauray’s ability to navigate in high elevation cloud forest, self-motivate to continue active field work under trying conditions, and diligently follow-up with meticulous herbarium and library studies until solid identifications of his collections can be nailed down. Clearly Nauray is at the start of what we hope [and encourage] is a long and productive career.

In addition to books purchased for Nauray for his research within the Sanctuary, a ten-year run of the Orchid Digest has been purchased and deposited in the library of the Vargas Herbarium, available to anyone interested in botany and (or) orchids. To our knowledge this is the first set of this journal in southern Peru and the first set of this journal in a public library in Peru. During recent trips to Peru the author has hand-carried partial sets of the American Orchid Society Bulletin and Orchids, donated by arm-twisted private orchid growers, to Peru. While these represent a good start, the author quite actively and unabashedly seeks further donations of orchid books and journals for libraries/students in Peru. As I am often quoted, "if you can get them to Sarasota, I will get them to Peru."

The San Diego County Orchid Society is to be applauded for their long-term view, helping to build orchid resources in tropical Latin America. While the general rule in conservation is to "think globally and act locally", I prefer the hard-core activist approach followed by San Diego to think globally and simply act globally. Readers of Orchids, the Orchid Digest, and other popular journals should eagerly anticipate an onslaught of articles by a dedicated group of students in Cuzco including Nauray and his associates Danitza Moscosa and Norma Salinas.

The San Diego County Orchid Society actively seeks support for its conservation work. Anyone interested in donating orchid-related publications to public institutions in Peru should contact the author. Anyone interested in donating money or other resources directly to San Diego’s conservation efforts should contact Dr. Peter S. Tobias, Dept. of Immunology IMM-12, The Scripps Research Institute, 10550 N. Torrey Pines Rd., La Jolla, CA 92037 (e-mail:

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