Ichu is an erect and bushy grass with leaves or ‘gray hairs’ ranging from 25 to 90 centimeters long. The tender stems are green, while the dried stems are golden or brown and can be very sharp. The plant grows year-round and is considered to be one of the most characteristic plants of the high Andean plains.
The ichu grows in the high Andes by overtaking extensive landscapes, as well as in dry areas on the edge of cultivated fields and roads. This bush most commonly grows at elevations between 3,000 and 4,600 meters, meaning that it can withstand cold and frost. Its leaves are acicular, with the margin rolled in the shape of a tube (a characteristic which protects from dehydration).
Because of its tender shoots, the ichu is very popular with cattle and camelids such as alpaca and llamas. After being harvested and dried, villagers often use it to make roofs for their houses, as well as for packing material to transport fragile goods such as clay pots.
In agriculture, it is used for sowing and packing potatoes. It is also used to make rope, bridges, carpets, mattresses and seats, and for the manufacture of hats and brooms. Also, farmers of ichu often burn their pastures in order to clear the way for the green offshoots of new growth. This practice, however, creates erosive conditions, which is a major problem in the Andes.
Cover photo: Flickr
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