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Species of Maca

Maca is the common name of a botanical that belongs to the Lepidium genus, commonly known as the peppergrasses or pepperworts. This genus of plants is part of the mustard family Brassicaceae, to which vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and turnips belong (1). In 2023, the World Flora Online (WFO) reported that there are 249 species of Lepidium, including two species of maca [Image 1] (2).


Image 1: Scientific botanical classification of maca

Image modified from Ross, K. & Minich, D. Maca-GO: The Science, Publications, and Clinical Applications for Hormone Health. 2nd ed. May 2023.



Two species of maca


Lepidium meyenii (Walpers) was first identified in 1843 by the German botanist Gerhard Walpers (3). It is native to northwest Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, and north Chile (4). In 1990, a Peruvian botanist, Gloria Chacón de Popovici, PhD, was credited for identifying Lepidium peruvianum Chacón de Popovici after years of researching Lepidium meyenii (5–7). Her groundbreaking work clarified a distinct difference in the two species: (8)

  • Lepidium meyenii is a wildcrafted maca plant.

  • Lepidium peruvianum is a cultivated, domesticated maca plant native to Peru that originated with its Incas.


Today, the two names (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon and Lepidium meyenii Walpers) populate the scientific literature and are commonly called “maca.” There has been some taxonomic debate over the years about these two species. In 2005, the Peruvian government, La Molina University, and San Marcos University formed an authoritative plant taxonomy specialists’ work group. As a result of this collaboration, Lepidium peruvianum Chacon was officially recognized as the true species denominated with the common name “maca” in accordance with the rules of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (9). Today, many scientific publications and commercial products refer to Lepidium meyenii, which can include wild maca from a variety of countries (i.e., China, Bolivia, Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina); however, it may be that what is used is Lepidium peruvianum (8).


Even though this clarification was provided in 2005, the two species’ names have been referred to as synonyms despite the distinctions that exist (8). Detailed analyses have been conducted to showcase the differences in the two species’ physical appearance, phytochemicals, and DNA (3,10,11).


There is an ongoing discussion about making a finalized decision on United States Pharmacopeia (USP) monographs for maca root, maca root powder, and maca root glucosinolates dry extract based on validated methods of analysis (12).


Additionally, adulterations and variations in the chemical makeup of maca grown in different geographical areas further emphasize the need for the correct nomenclature.


Author: Kim Ross, DCN

Reviewer: Deanna Minich, PhD

Last Updated: February 22, 2024





1. Gonzales GF. Ethnobiology and ethnopharmacology of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a plant from the peruvian highlands. Vol. 2012, Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012.

2. World Flora Online (WHO) Plant List [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 Apr 28]. Lepidium L. Available from:

3. Beharry S, Heinrich M. Is the hype around the reproductive health claims of maca (Lepidium meyenii Walp.) justified? Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2018.

4. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew [Internet]. [cited 2023 Apr 28]. Lepidium meyenii Walp. Available from:

5. GBIF Backbone Taxonomy. Checklist dataset [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 Apr 28]. Lepidium peruvianum Chacon de Popovici in GBIF Secretariat. Available from:

6. International Plant Names Index [Internet]. [cited 2023 Apr 30]. Lepidium peruvianum G. Chacon. Available from:

7. Chacon G. Phytochemical study on Lepidium meyenii. [Lima, Peru]: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos.; 1961.

8. Meissner HO, Mscisz A, Kedzia B, Pisulewski P, Piatkowska E. Peruvian maca: Two scientific names Lepidium Meyenii walpers and Lepidium Peruvianum chacon – Are they phytochemically-synonymous? International Journal of Biomedical Science. 2015.

9. Ross K, Minich D. Maca-GO: The Science, Publications, and Clinical Applications for Hormone Health. Vol. 2nd ed. 2023.

10. Geng P, Sun J, Chen P, Brand E, Frame J, Meissner H, et al. Characterization of Maca (Lepidium meyenii/Lepidium peruvianum) Using a Mass Spectral Fingerprinting, Metabolomic Analysis, and Genetic Sequencing Approach. Planta Med. 2020 Jul 20;86(10):674–85.

11. Meissner HO, Mscisz A, Piatkowska E, Baraniak M, Mielcarek S, Kedzia B, et al. Peruvian maca (Lepidium peruvianum): (II) phytochemical profiles of four prime maca phenotypes grown in two geographically-distant locations. International Journal of Biomedical Science. 2016;

12. Minich DM, Ross K, Frame J, Fahoum M, Warner W, Meissner HO. Not All Maca Is Created Equal: A Review of Colors, Nutrition, Phytochemicals, and Clinical Uses. Nutrients. 2024 Feb 14;16(4):530.

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