Matucana (2008)

By Chris Deem (October 2008)

In Peru the past is not quiet, it bleeds into the present. The ghosts of the Incas lurk like shadows in the mists.

Along the coast, a barren expanse of drifting sand greets the sunrise with indifference. Offshore in the mighty Pacific Ocean, the current of the Humboldt sweeps in erratic fogs along with its icy water. In this land, however, the mountains and rivers are truly in control.

Matucana cacti have adapted well to the extremes of Peru. In the north, M. aurantiaca, for example, can be found thriving in an often foggy and chilly habitat. Here one is growing alone, amongst a yellowish-green moss. Its sharp, chocolate-brown spines protect its brownish-orange flower. Another unique species, M. hystrix, can be found growing at high elevations in central Peru. Surviving on cold, desolate mountains, the plants’ dark spines can be long and fierce.

Of course, there are also many species that grow in the lowlands. M. madisoniorum is found in the arid canyons above the meandering Rio Maranon. Some species of Matucana in the warmer lowlands have a period of dormancy in the hot, dry summer.

Matucanas are most well-known for their remarkably shaped flowers. Most of what is written about the genus mentions that most species have flowers with bilateral symmetry. A fact I found much more interesting is that extremely small leaves can be seen at the growing tips of the species M. aureiflora.

The Peruvian landscape is hauntingly diverse. It is a trait that is shared by the matucanas of Peru.