Oroya (2006)

PhotoBy Chris Deem (April 2006)

It seemed a day like any other. A large, dark condor, wings outstretched, gliding high above, circled the area twice and then was gone.

For seven years I’ve grown on the western slope of this rugged mountain in the Andes of northern Peru. I am small, globular and somewhat flattened. An oroya cactus, I sit quite deep in the ground. It is good protection, for the winters here are very cold. The unceasing winds scatter the light snow across the landscape. In the summer, the wind continues, stealing the moisture from all life and the land.

It is not winter now. The coarse grass that surrounds me is still tall and golden-green. It is warm, very warm. The sun glows bright this time of year. My dense yellow spines shine over my light-green ribs. Soon many bell-shaped blossoms will appear near the top of my body.

It seemed a day like any other. Then it happened suddenly. I could feel movement deep in the ground. The ground was rolling, with the sounds of rocks cracking and falling. Then there was a deadly silence…

The small genus of Oroya grows in the high mountain deserts of northern and central Peru. Oroya borchersii are light-green plants with yellow or brown spines. Their flowers are yellow. Widespread in central Peru, O. peruviana have comblike spines that can be yellow, brown or gold. Their bodies are dark green.

Oroyas thrive in bright, sunny locations and require a cold and dry winter rest. The plants are very attractive and well adapted to their rugged landscapes. Earthquakes are known to occur in the home of this high-mountain genus.