18 October 2010
Last updated at 09:45
The Puya Raimondi or Queen of the Andes is a rare plant found in the highlands of Bolivia and Peru. Growing to 12m (40ft) and living up to 100 years, the plant only flowers once as it comes to the end of its life-span.
Despite the plants' protected species, local people in the Peruvian region of Ayacucho burn them. The custom is partly inspired by a popular myth that the plants are carnivorous, as livestock gets trapped in the spines and, unable to escape, sometimes die.
To save the plants, Ayacucho's regional government, Caritas and the Italian-Peruvian Fund want to create a conservation area. They plan to involve local communities in preserving the puyas and developing eco-tourism.
Rural hostels like this one in Chanchayllo hope to attract tourists. Built by Caritas and the Italian-Peruvian Fund, it allows local women to make money by providing food and board to visitors.
"We want our hostel to be full of people," says Raida Barzola, 28 (far left) who leads a women’s organisation in Chanchayllo. "We didn't value the puyas until tourism arrived, our parents used to burn them, but we no longer do that."
Close to the forest of puyas is a town whose rich history could help turn this corner of the Andes into a tourist route. In Vilcashuaman's main square, there is a Spanish colonial church built on top of what used to be the Incan Temple of the Sun.
The town was a key administrative centre of the Inca Empire, linking the pre-Hispanic capital, Cusco, with the coast. Historians believe up to 40,000 people may have lived here.
A combination of eco- and archaeological tourism could make it easier to preserve the puyas. Once they are valued as a source of income, more puyas may get the chance to bloom. Photos: Marina Garcia Burgos, Text: Dan Collyns