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Friday, 23 September 2016 17:34

Amazing plants in the Atacama desert, Chile

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To celebrate Melinda getting her PhD we took a weekend break in the Atacama Desert.  We are very used to cold deserts but this was a whole other experience.  Really dry, salty and hot and very high altitude so burning UV radiation.  So can plants survive there?  Of course they are so tough.  Some parts were so dry we didn't see much vegetation but wherever there was a bit of water we saw plants. 

They other thing that really struck us was how similar they were to the plants we see on King George Island and in the subantarctic. The grass and cushion plants (like azorella) look the same. We didn't see much moss though.

We stayed in a town called San Pedro de Atacama and visited the Valle de la Luna, Valle de la Muerte, Salar de Atacama y Lagunas Altiplánicas (Miscanti y Meñiques). There wasn't much vegetation in the Valle de la Luna, Valle de la Muerte but the rock formations were spectacular.  We saw a lot of natural native vegetation around the Miscanti y Meñiques lakes. Grasses that are essential food for the Vicuña and also used for roofing material.


















The native people made elaborate water channels to guide the water from the mountains to their terraced fields and allow them to grow plants to eat.  In the picture below you can see broad bean plants growing in one such garden. The houses were built of volcanic rocks and mud bricks are also used a lot for walls.























This year the Atacama has had more rain than usual and it has been a spctacular flower season. We were a bit late but there were still some flowers around.

























Atacama Flowers


Here is Mel inspecting the spines on a cactus. The woody parts of the cactus are used for decorating the ceilings of buildings.
























Where there is water for irrigation you get trees. In this picture you can see a line of trees were there is water, but in the foreground there are only native desert plants like grasses because there is so little rainfall.



Read 8496 times Last modified on Tuesday, 12 February 2019 18:31
Sharon Robinson

Senior Professor at University of Wollongong