The Sahara Desert is the most famous and largest desert in the world with an area of more than 9 million square km. It stretches almost throughout North Africa. People wonder if there are any types of plants that live in the sand of Sahara. And now we’ll answer this question!
What is Sahara?
The name of the desert is the Arabic translation of the word ‘desert’. The temperature of the air rises to 58°C in summer, and remains in the range of 15 - 28°C in winter. During frequent sandstorms sandy dust from the Sahara can even be carried to Europe.
Plants found in desert
An interesting fact is that there are maps showing areas where mirages are observed. And there are more than 150 thousand of them in the Sahara desert!
The vegetative cover of the Sahara has 1200 species of plants. Most of them are xerophytes or ephemeral. These stony areas seem lifeless, but even on such seemingly improbable soil for life, some plants can be found. They amaze with their ability to adapt to the harsh conditions of the desert.
The Jericho rose is one of desert plants with short branches that pinch its seeds like fingers. When it rains, these ‘fingers’ are unclenched and the seeds fall into moist soil, where they germinate very quickly.
Seeds of other plants also use every drop of moisture, but if there are no favorable conditions, they can thrive in dry soil even for several years.
Lichens and small plants with thorns and small leaves lie on the sands and on the rocks. The gray, gray-green and yellow tones of the vegetation cover give a lifeless, sad appearance to the whole desert.
Near the southern border of the Sahara there are shrubs and some hard cereals, and in the north one can find wild pistachios, jujuba and oleanders.
Animals and plants inhabiting the Sahara are divided into those that can live only near water, and those that can exist in the desert itself. Even in places where the signs of the desert are most pronounced, where the rains do not happen for years and where you cannot find the usual vegetation, the bacteria and lower mushrooms still manage to exist.
All animals live directly or indirectly at the expense of plants. Herbivorous animals and insects eat plants, and predators, lizards and frogs kill herbivores and insects. So the desert plants need not only to extract the water, which is important for their existence, but also to protect themselves from animals that are tormented by hunger and thirst. It is extremely interesting to observe how this problem is solved.
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Precipitation in the desert falls in the form of stormy, but very rare showers. Part of the moisture is collected in the depressions of the watercourses and seeping into the depths of their muddy or sandy bed. Here, perennial plants and very large trees can grow. In the past, travelers often broke camp under a branchy pistachio tree on the shore of the lake. On the banks of all the wadis, flowing down from the Atlas mountains, there are tamarisks and oleanders.
Away from the main bed of the wadi, but certainly where subsoil moisture is found, you may often see fairly large acacias (Acacia tortilis, etc.). Along the southern borders of the Sahara, palm trees (Hyphaene thebaica), a prickly desert date (Balanites aegyptiaca) and various acacias grow under similar conditions. On the edges of lakes, reeds and sedge often turn green in the bogs and bends of wadi.
But they do not represent the desert flora itself. In the open spaces of the desert, the absence of plant life is striking. Sahara is not like the deserts of North America with their relatively luxuriant flora of cacti and other plants. Near the Atlantic coast, cactus-like spurge (Euphorbia echinus) grows, but it does not penetrate the interior of the Sahara.
In order to survive perennials with a green aerial part must retain some amount of moisture in their tissues. This is achieved either by accumulation in the underground root or bulb, or by a decrease in transpiration due to the formation of a wax skin or a hairy, prickly, folded surface, or, finally, by spreading the plant along the ground, protecting it from strong wind. One of the most important features of a number of perennial desert plants is the root system, which is huge in relation to the green part stretching over the surface.
On the South Atlas hammocks, there is a plant that forms a gray-green cushion like lichen. But if you touch it – it is as hard as a stone. The role of the leaves is given to the hard gray-green stars, between them, there is stuffed sand brought by the wind. This inedible ‘Sahara cauliflower’ - Echinochloa (Anabasis arctioides) perfectly solved the critical problems it faces. The whole area, as far as the eye could see, is strewn with small gray-green pillows.
Sahara Tenere Tree - the loneliest tree in the world
Tenere tree was considered the loneliest plant on the planet, due to the fact that for 220 km around it there was nothing except sand. It grew in the desert of Tenera in the northeast of the Niger.
The first Europeans who saw the tree were the French. Before the studies, they could not understand how the plant could survive in the middle of the desert, in which there was not even a hint of the presence of any kind of moisture. In addition, thorns and acacia leaves were regularly eaten up by camels. It was also very strange thatno one had cut down the acacia for 300 years of its existence.
The fact was that, according to local beliefs, this tree was a kind of symbol of life in the middle of a dead desert, which gives strength and confidence to the caravans passing by. Therefore, no one dared to destroy it.
In 1938 scientists puzzled the riddle. They dug a large pit near the tree, thanks to which it became evident that the roots of the acacia had gone deep by 40 meters, reaching the groundwater.
But, unfortunately, the tree ceased to exist in 1973, when a drunken Libyan driver crashed into it on his truck. So, one of the holy places of Niger was destroyed. The authorities decided to transport the remains of a tree from the desert to the capital, where it became one of the main exhibits in the National Museum.
Up to this day people come from all over the continent to worship this natural wonder for which they even built a kind of mausoleum.
Sahara is a place that everyone should visit at least once. Different weird animals, various types of plants in the desert will make this journey unforgettable!