Economic Botany

, Volume 32, Issue 3, pp 222–236 | Cite as

The Totora (Scirpus Californicus) in Ecuador and Peru

  • Charles Heiser


The totora (also known as matara and merme),Scirpus californicus, is widely used in Ecuador and Peru for a number of purposes. Floats made from it are still found at L.ake San Pablo and Yaguarcocha in Ecuador and at Huanchaco and L.ake Titicaca in Peru. Totora mats of highland Ecuador are woven, whereas woven mats are rare in Peru where twining seems to be the common method. Although commonly known by the Spanish name esteras, the mats are sometimes referred to as petates, a Mexican name, which may have reached the Andes in pre-Conquest times. Totoras are also used to make fans and baskets, and as food for both man and animals, the former only in the area of Lake Titicaca. The totora may have been cultivated in prehistoric times. The extensive altitudinal distribution and the apparent lack of seed set in some highland lakes suggest that man may be implicated in its spread. The totora is definitely known to be cultivated in both Peru and Ecuador in recent times. The totora comprises two subspecies: subsp.californicus found in the highlands of Ecuador and in both highland and coastal sites in Peru, and subsp.Tatora, confined to the highlands of Peru. There may be some justification for considering the two as distinct species. Chromosome counts ofn = 32 and 34 are reported for subsp.catifornicus andn = 35 for subsp.Tatora. Plants of both subspecies were found to grow well in the greenhouses at Indiana University. The totora of Easter Island, previously regarded as a variety of subsp.californicus, was found to be virtually identical to American populations of the subspecies. Although Heyerdahi has claimed that the totora was introduced into Easter Island by Peruvians in prehistoric times, it is pointed out that birds are equally, or more likely, responsible for its introduction there.


Cassava Economic Botany Peru Ecuador Cobo 
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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles Heiser
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Plant SciencesIndiana UniversityBloomington

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