The Atacama is said to be the driest desert in the world. It rains so little that, when it does so in a somewhat more remarkable way, its (microscopic) inhabitants are devastated. But the curious thing about this desert, with this record, is that it also suffers a wonderful cyclical phenomenon that fills with flowers.
Atacama has an approximate area of 105,000 square kilometers and has an annual rainfall rate below 254 millimeters, having even registered periods of up to 400 years without rain in its central zone. But throughout that area there are areas that are somewhat more conducive to experiencing rains and when they abound, magic (or science, depending on how you look at it) occurs.
A blanket of color over what is usually cracked earth
For the land of those who write to you they sometimes say that “for how little it rains, it rains enough“(” For the little that it rains, it rains a lot “) and it is a small popular tongue twister that fits quite well with this phenomenon that, despite occurring in such an inhospitable place as Atacama, has had to be protected by regulations. produces is such that it is not uncommon for it to be victim of mass tourism, as has happened for years in locations like Paris and others like this, apparently not so popular, such as Hadrian’s wall.
These rains, which cannot be said to be frequent except in this context, are “usually” produced by the effect of the Pacific Ocean (hot air). It is called “highland winter” and occurs between January and February, occurring thunderstorms and rain. Something that may remind us of what we saw with the Catatumbo lightning, but in that case the hot air mass is carried by the Caribbean Sea.
Hence, it does not rain a lot, but it does rain enough so that there is snow, fog or flowers. When the rains are abundant, as is also the case when El Niño occurs, Atacama dresses its soil with the inflorescences of more than 200 native species.
El Niño was what caused the 2015 to be recorded what was considered the largest flowering in the previous 18 years in the desert. The surprise was, moreover, that beyond the intensity of that occasion, it was the second time that the phenomenon occurred that year.
The fact that flowering can occur some time after that extra water reaches the Atacama páramos is due to the fact that many plants are capable of developing seeds and nutrient storage structures such as rhizomes and bulbs, which manage to endure in a state of latency until the conditions conducive to development are in place (such as the spores of a fungus, protozoan or other species). Floral growth occurs a few months after the rains and usually lasts about 3-4 months, occurring in a staggered manner according to the development of each species (the añañucas -Rhodophiala phycelloides * or the Huilli – usually come first.Leucocoryne spp.-, with bulbs).
In the end it ends up being a multicolored mantle, depending on which flowers grow, high biological value, being associated with fauna of the area and being endemic species (such as the añañucas or the lion’s claws –Philodendron xanadu-). This year has already occurred, specifically last august.
However, Atacama it is not the only desert that bloomsIt also occurs in deserts located in Australia or in the United States, such as Mojave, although Atacama may receive more fame for this, since it has been a tourist place for decades. Who knows if Arackar licanantay, the dinosaur discovered last April in Atacama, also wandered through this exceptional and intermittent meadow at the time.
Image | Joselyn Anfossi Mardones