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In referring to maca, the 16th-century chronicler Padre Cobo said: “this plant is born in the roughest and coldest of the sierra where no other plant, cultivated as food, grows.”
Indeed, the Puna region of southern Peru, which is maca's native habitat, has an intensely cold climate that makes it all but impossible to cultivate other leafy plants. The fact that such an area was made habitable and self-sustaining is a demonstration of the Incas' agricultural skills, as well as of the potential to be found in maca.
The Puna is one of the most inhospitable places on earth. A treeless ecological zone between 3,800 and 4,800 m elevation, it is characterized by steppes, uncultivated fields, tundra, and barren alpine and subalpine plains. Its average temperature fluctuates between 5° and 10°C. At any hour of the day, but especially in the afternoons, strong winds blow. The most feared is the “phuku,” a wind that, according to local lore, can lift a horseman off his mount and throw him to the ground.
In general terms, the landscape is extremely wild and captivating. Because of the luminosity at this high altitude, the mountain peaks are said to seem to be right at one's fingertips. There are few flat areas, and those are very small. Most of the region is undulating terrain, with rough slopes and freezing rocky areas. There are large stretches, barren of all vegetation and soil, with rocks already exposed on the surface.