Importance of Totora

The totora probably originates from the Atacama and Titicaca highlands, not only has distribution and abundance in Lake Titicaca, but also in Lake Poopó or Aullagas in the department of Oruro Bolívia, today the great Atacama desert.

The scientific name of the cattail was subject to change: Scirpus totora, Scirpus titikakensis, Scirpus califomicus. In the year 1980 two different scientific names appeared simultaneously; the study carried out in Bolivia, suggests the name of Schoenoplectus tatora instead, the study carried out in Peru, mentions the genus Scirpus with two species: Scirpus totora and Scirpus sp.

In the Uros, life revolves around water and the reed plant as both are decisive for subsisting and living in the lake. The reed in particular has different uses such as the following mentioned:


  • The tender shoots of TOTORA can be consumed as a vegetable, since they have a high content of iodine, calcium, fluorine and chlorophyll.
  • This plant, mainly in its tender and juvenile state, is used as forage for feeding cattle, sheep and even camelids and horses; pigs directly take advantage of the rhizomes when there are areas of reeds exposed in times of drought. This aquatic vegetation is considered as the basis for feeding cattle in the riverside area. The reed, provides breeding and feeding sites for fish and amphibians, is the habitat of a great diversity of migratory and resident birds (reproduction, nesting, refuge).


  • Serves as an astringent to control diarrhea.
  • It is also used to fight fever.
  • Totora ashes are used as an antiseptic. This aids in faster wound healing.


  • The mature totora is dried in the sun to be used as a raw material in handicrafts such as: ornaments, mats, chairs, furniture, mats, handbags, baskets, hats and mattresses “quesanas”. The most outstanding artisans come from the Uros and from the Chimú community.


  • With the Totora, houses and boats are built, such as totora boats and kayaks. On April 28, 1947, a raft with six men and a parrot set sail from Callao in Peru with the aim of reaching Polynesia. The patron was Thor Heyerdahl, who was 33 years old at the time, his idea was that the Pacific archipelagos had not been populated only by Westerners, but also by indigenous people from South America. Among other indications, Heyerdahl pointed to the legend of Kon-Tiki Viracocha, a native indigenous chief who had sailed in a large wooden boat from Peru to where the sun sets in the west.
  • The most incredible thing is that the famous Uros Islands are not there naturally, but artificially built by the hand of Man. In other words, a large part of their time is spent overlapping layers of cattails on each island, even building new islands.
  • It is said that the Inca Cápac Yupanqui ordered the construction of a large TOTORA bridge over the Desaguadero river, which allowed the transit of his troops.


  • Totora ashes serve as compost.