Driest Place on Earth Erupts in Bloom

ENVIRONMENT

After intense and unexpected rain fell in the north of Chile, parts of the usually arid Atacama desert have turned into a carpet of flowers. (BBC)

What other deserts experience periodic “superblooms”?

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

The Atacama’s desierto florido events usually occur about every 5-7 years, but the last phenomenon happened in 2015.
Photograph by El Guille, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-2.0

Discussion Ideas

 

 

  • What plant life normally survives the arid Atacama?
    • Well, the dormant seeds that flower during a desierto florido event are still alive during the Atacama’s arid periods. They’re just not blooming!
    • Besides the dormant flower seeds, hundreds of plants have adapted to life in the high desert. These include dozens of endemic species of drought-tolerant plants such as cacti, saltgrass, and succulents.
    • Perhaps the most famous of the Atacama’s plant community is the yareta—what appears as a blob of bright green slime is actually the world’s highest-elevation woody plant. To conserve resources such as heat, moisture, and energy, the yareta is very dense and grows very slowly—a little more than one centimeter a year.

The yareta belongs to the same plant family as carrots and celery.
Photograph by erdbeernaut, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-2.0

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

BBC: Chile’s Atacama desert: World’s driest place in bloom after surprise rain

Nat Geo: Death Valley is Full of Life

Nat Geo: Earth’s Extremes

WWF: Ecoregions—Western South America: Northwestern Chile

 

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