Peru is at the heart of west central South America. Ecuador is to its north, Chile and Bolivia to the south, Colombia and Brazil to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Its ancient history dates back to the presence of the Incas. Its estimated population of 23 million includes descendants of Spanish settlers and Inca and pre-Inca cultures. Peru’s flora reflects a similar pattern, based on its geographical diversity.
The national flower of Peru is the cantuta/kantuta/qantuta (Cantua buxifolia), which is also called the Sacred Flower of the Incas. It is native to Peru, Bolivia and northern Chile. The cantuta grows to a height of about 10 feet and features small, grayish-green leaves and vibrant, purple, pink, white, yellow and striped flowers on graceful, arched branches. It is a member of the Polemoniaceae family.
The cantuta tricolor is a variety with red and yellow petals on a green base. There is a legend associated with it, of two kings, Illimani and Illampu, who mortally wounded one another in battle, and on their deathbeds, sought revenge through their sons. History repeated itself when both sons died in battle. However, Pachamama, goddess of fertility, decreed that as a punishment for the two kings who caused such tragedy, their stars should fall to earth and become the snow-capped peaks that still bear their names. The cantuta’s red and yellow petals symbolize the colors of the two younger kings, and the green represents hope.
Rostrata (Heliconia rostrata) is commonly called hanging lobster claw. This fast-growing plant reaches a height of between 6 and 8 feet, usually blooming between July and September, with a preference for filtered light and moist soil. Rostrata means “beaked,” referring to the appearance of the red bracts, which look like a parrot’s beak. This striking flower is native to Peru and Ecuador and is a member of the Heliconiaceae family.
Marvel-of-Peru, beauty-of-the-night and four o’clock are some of the common names of Mirabilis jalapa, which is a member of the Nyctaginaceae, or four-o'clock family. This fast-growing perennial is native to tropical South America. It grows to a height of about 3 feet, with multiple branches and fragrant, trumpet-shaped, red, magenta, pink, yellow or white flowers from spring to fall. In some cases, there is more than one color of flower on the same plant, or bi-colored flowers, though the blooms are short-lived, usually opening in the evening and spent by the next morning. Marvel-of-Peru prefers full sun to partial shade, any soil conditions and regular watering.