The forests that regulate
the water balance in the high Andes


The Queuñas are trees and shrubs that belong to the genus Polylepis (Rosaceae family), grow between 3500 and 5200 meters above sea level. They are plants adapted to the adverse conditions of the high Andes, such as cold, lack of water and high radiation. Its dense crowns with leaves covered with small hairs capture the humidity of the air and carry it to the ground where it is absorbed by its superficial roots. These plants have leaves throughout the year, maintain the water regime of the high forests and form a barrier against strong winds. On the other hand, its copper colored bark is detached as thin sheets of paper, between the sheets the air is kept at a constant temperature and helps maintain the heat that is used by small insects. Numerous mosses and lichens grow on the bark forming highly diverse microecosystems that feed countless birds, many of them endemic and specific to these forests.

Las Queuñas were and still are a valuable timber resource in the high Andes, its hardwood is ideal for building houses and tools. Unfortunately, these trees are endangered by over-exploitation, changes in land use and global warming. These sensitive species have a slow growth that hinders self-regeneration in areas that are used for wood extraction and grazing. ECOAN has spent 19 years directing the creation and management of private conservation areas that house relict forests of Queuñas in the Vilcanota mountain range. We work with the peasant communities in the production of seedlings of different Polylepis species, which are planted under the ancestral group work model called Ayni. This is how, year after year, we celebrate the reforestation party of the Polylepis, baptized as "Queuña Raymi". By conserving and recovering these forests, we protect endangered species such as the royal cinclodes (Cinclodes aricomae), the ash-breasted tit-tyrant (Anairetes alpinus) and the white-browed tit-spinetail (Leptasthenura xenothorax); whose populations have increased in recent years, demonstrating the success of the Queuña Raymi.


One of the conservation strategies of the relict forests of Queuña is the creation and long-term management of private conservation areas, recognized by the SERNANP (National Service of Natural Protected Areas). We currently have 9 ACPs in the Vilcanota mountain range, covering an area of 8614 hectares. In these forests we monitor flora, fauna, carbon stock and water content. We have reduced the firewood requirement of local communities by installing improved stoves and solar panels. Textiles and diverse agricultural products of these communities are inserted in the local market and the inhabitants are trained to provide ecotourism services in the network of private areas of the Vilcanota mountain range of the Sacred Valley of the Incas or "Vilcanota Trek".

Queuña Raymi

To recover the habitat of these ecosystems through afforestation and reforestation, 100 000 saplings of Polyelpis are produced in communal nurseries every year.

From 2001 to 2018 it was possible to plant more than 1 and a half million plants of Polylepis or "Queuñas" and other native species of the high forests, such as Qolle (Buddleja spp.), Chachacomo (Escallonia resinous) and Alder (Alnus acuminata).