kechuca (plant), jotcha (plant), punco-punco (plant), Ephedra andina (plant), Jakkacllopito (bird), Colaptes rupicola (bird), Colaptes pitius (bird,
aka pitiwe, pite, and pitio)...
Despite knowing all these names from hand-me-down tales no one has yet to witness (in modern times) any of these miracles of birds using a plant to
soften stone nor has anyone managed to recreate this magic elixir.
The tales come from unlikely sources: Hiram Bingham (who invented Mormonism after pulling golden plates out of a hat...) and an explorer (Col.
Fawcett) in search of a lost city of gold. There was a priest, Jorge A. Lira, an 'expert in Andean folklore,' who claimed he recreated the formula
in 1983 - and conveniently forgot to write any of it down, which is now lost - again.
This is how myths work. Each new generation goes off in search of a myth and adds their own spin to it. The myth lives on even more obfuscated by the
later twists and turns.
The truth may be far less glamorous, that the plants above are alkaline which does have some properties to weaken the surface of stone to allow it to
be marred. We use acids today to clean the surfaces of stone, tiles, and concrete, but that does not 'reshape' them or allow them to be molded. Some
truth perhaps, mixed with a lot of myth.
The bird identified by Fawcett does indeed make nests in stone hollows (as well as in trees), but it doesn't create the hollow, it only fishes around
in them - for insects, much like a woodpecker. The hollows are created by pebbles and small rocks that rattle around by winds until the carve out
their niches, a process that can take many years (called 'swirl' holes). It may be that these birds are using an alkaline plant to further clean the
stone hollow for use as a nest, perhaps there is a paper out there in academia on that topic.
Here is a Andean web page that goes into great depth of these tales - by far the most in depth I've seen compared to the glut of incredulous web
Vivat Academia Magazine
(this is the Google Translated page)
"Grupo de Reflexión de la Universidad de Alcalá" (GRUA); 2003. Las piedras de
(original in Spanish language)
I found that page after looking at some peer-reviewed papers on the Andean Flicker;
Traditional use of the Andean flicker (Colaptes rupicola) as a galactagogue in the
. It gives a few mentions of the lore of this bird in 'softening stone,' but more credence is given to it's role as a meat
source and health benefits to young mothers.