Vineyard Flora in the Andes
Updated: May 22, 2021
Our lush ecosystem lends itself to the growth of many native plants on the hillsides of our high-altitude vineyards. Some of that flora is immensely beneficial, assisting us with our viticulture process by repelling insects, protecting against diseases and predicting the future success of vines. However, many other bushes and shrubs that grow rampant here are detrimental to the vines. We will highlight 4 plants in this post, molle, chamana (hopbush), salvia tubiflora and aternanthera villosa, and discuss their influence on our vineyards.
Molle (Schinus molle)
Native to the Peruvian Andes, molle is an evergreen tree that produces bright pink berries similar to peppercorn. In traditional Andean medicine, the flowers, leaves and stems are used to treat arthritis, bronchitis, cough and chills (Bussmann).
Vineyard uses: Molle is a natural bug repellent, so we have the trees strategically placed between our rows of vines to control pests. Its short stature allows molle to act as a wind breaker, while creating mininal shade on our vines.
Chamanas (Dodonaea Viscosa)
This flowering evergreen shrub belongs to the soapberry family. It grows abundantly in the Andes between 1000-3800 meters. Although we battle with the chamana's deep roots that overcrowd our vineyards, the chamana has many practical uses, Andean people use the leaves to combat arthritis pain (Reynel).
In other parts of the world, chamana is called "hopbush" because its flowers can be used instead of hops to make beer (Richins Meyers). The flowers are seen below in this picture:
Vineyard uses: We use chamanas to separate lots, allowing us to contain fungi and other infections within each vineyard. But perhaps their most important function, chamanas are the best indicator of future success of grapevines. The nature of their root system is very similar to grape plants. They grow deep roots that penetrate the limestone soils, allowing them to maintain their green color and robustness during dry season. Their healthy appearance during dry season also tells us that we could successfully practice dry farming here.
Salvia tubiflora and alternanthera villosa are perhaps the most detrimental plants that grow in our vineyards because they attract fungi and other diseases such as phomopsis viticola. We don't use herbicides or machines to remove weeds, so keeping these plants at bay requires the work of many hands.
Seen above, salvia tubiflora can be boiled to create a topical to treat body pain in traditional medicine. We frequently remove this bush because diseases such as mildew and mold love sticking to its stems and flowers.
With its small white flowers, alternanthera villosa is known as "Hierba del Oso" in the Andes (The bear's herbs). In traditional Andean medicine, its leaves, flowers and stems are boiled to protect against evil. Fungi thrive on the stems of these flowery plants. The spores then migrate to our vines. Just like salvia tubiflora, we constantly remove alternanthera villosa to protect our grapevines from deadly diseases.
Bussmann, Rainier W, and Douglas Sharon. Medicinal Plants of the Andes and the Amazon - The Magic and Medicinal Flora of Northern Peru. Ethnobotany Research & Applications, 2016.
Reynel, Carlos, et al. Guia De Identifación De Las Plantas Del Derecho De via Del Ducto Del Peru LNG. June 2012, perulng.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Guia_identificacion_plantas.pdf.
Richins-Myers, Vanessa. “Growing Hopbush in Your Garden.” The Spruce, 21 May 2019, www.thespruce.com/hopbush-growing-tips-4011881.
“Schinus Molle.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 May 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schinus_molle.