Sacred Flower of the Incas is native to the Andes Mountains

December 5, 2018

Throughout parts of South America are musical groups that play Andean flutes. These flutes are similar to pan pipes and are fine-tuned by placing dried corn kernels or tiny pebbles into the bottom of the pipes. They play K’antu, a ceremonial music from the highest mountains in the Western Hemisphere, the Andes, home of the Incas. The groups are called K'antu perhaps to mimic the tubular Kantu flowers of the houseplant Sacred Flower of the Incas (Cantua buxifolia).

This mountain native blooms with stunning three-inch-long, tube-shaped, rose-pink flowers with bright-blue pollen that grow in clusters at the very ends of the arching stems. They usually bloom from late winter into spring. It forms an impressive plant when grown in a hanging basket. An upright form called a standard sets an equally calming effect with gently weeping branches. In addition to shades of red, there are varieties that bloom in yellow and white flowers.

Sacred Flower of the Incas is native to the Andes Mountains of South America. It is the national flower of Peru, appearing even today in cultural ceremonies. The supple, thin branches are woven into baskets, and a natural yellow dye is made from the leaves.

The Sacred Flower of the Incas is also said to have medicinal properties. A tea or infusion of the stems was used to treat diarrhea. The tea also treated jaundice, coughing and inflammation of the eyes.

These flowers are traditionally used in the coming-of-age ceremonies. The flowers are placed on the young men's foreheads while they undergo tests of physical skill and bravery before passing into manhood.

By the 20th century, the Sacred Flower of the Incas was a popular flower for funeral services. It was said that if the dead became thirsty during their journey to the other world they could quench their thirst by drinking the sweet nectar of these flowers. When moved outside during warm weather, the tubular flowers and rich nectar attract not the thirsty dead, but flocks of hummingbirds.

For best results give this plant at least six hours of bright sunlight daily. Because Sacred Flower of the Incas blooms on last year's wood, prune them immediately after the flowers have faded.

They are only hardy to about 35°F or USDA Zone 9, so most of us will have to treat this as a houseplant. Even potted or in a hanging basket, Sacred Flower of the Incas can get quite large. Mature plants can reach three to five feet tall, so a good-sized pot is needed. Use a rich and well-drained potting soil. Feed them with a good liquid plant food while they are actively growing during spring and early summer.

For a long-blooming hanging basket or large patio plant, try Sacred Flower of the Incas. Its stunning flowers and long history just might put you in touch with the inner sacred.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.