Monday, November 2, 2015

October Desert Surprises


I had planned to do my column on how to wash, dry, then store Caladium bulbs, however something strange and delightful occurred this past week which is worthy of note. The Atacama Desert in Chile, known as the driest place on Earth, is awash with color after a an entire year’s worth of rainfall fell in a strange October storm which broke all records.

Arica, Chile, in northern Atacama, holds the world record for the longest dry streak, having gone 173 months without a drop of rain in the early 20th century. In another Atacama neighbor to the south of Arica, the average annual rainfall in the city of Antofagasta is just 0.07 inches.
Strong El NiƱo years can be a rainy boon for the region and heavy thunderstorms brought almost an inch of rain in one day… this amount is what normally falls in 14 years. The malva (or mallow) flowers on the floor of the Atacama desert awoke and are providing the most breathtaking show in almost 20 years.

Most desert wildflowers are annuals who are very short-lived, rushing to live an entire lifetime in a few short weeks before the dry heat returns once again. The seeds produced by these wise flowers will rest dormant, often for years, patiently waiting for rainfall. When the rain finally arrives, they will quickly spring forth in a glorious wash of fleeting color before succumbing to the return of the heat.



Joining the list of the driest places on earth is our own Death Valley (Greenland Ranch, California), who also claims the distinction of being the hottest as well. Death Valley saw the mercury soar to a scorching 134 degrees on July 10, 1913, beating out Libya for this dubious honor. Death Valley is also famous for its spectacular, spring wildflower displays, but those are the exception, not the rule. Only under perfect conditions does the desert fill with a sea of gold, purple, pink or white flowers.

A series of unusual storms arrived in October at Death Valley National Park. Although flooding caused damage to structures, the wild flowers awoke to produce a glorious show last week. Blooming enmasse these wildflowers attracted large numbers of butterflies, moths, bees and hummingbirds that would not otherwise visit Death Valley… it became a very busy place for a brief span of time.

The natural survival of plants are a miracle of Nature. Not only do seeds sleep if necessary, but they can adapt to man made environmental disasters inflicted upon them. In a mere six generations a weed will genetically adapt and become resistant to an herbicide… Roundup will not affect them.  Perhaps, if we are indeed fortunate, flowers will continue to reside everywhere on Earth.