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article imageThe amazing flowering Desert of Atacama Special

By Igor I. Solar     Nov 14, 2011 in Environment
Vallenar - The Atacama Desert of Chile is known as one of the driest places on Earth; however, because of higher than usual winter precipitation related to El Niño phenomenon, the desert can burst in a sensational bloom of colourful flowers.
The desert in bloom is a natural event that occurs in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. The phenomenon is the emergence of a wide variety of flowers between the months of September and November, in years when rainfall during the winter is higher than usual (in the normal range for the desert), at a certain level capable of inducing lots of seeds and bulbs, which were dormant sometimes for years, to germinate in the spring.
At the beggining of the spring the dry sand starts filling with colourful flowers.
At the beggining of the spring the dry sand starts filling with colourful flowers.
Large extensions of the Atacama desert change colour with the sequencial blooming of the desert flow...
Large extensions of the Atacama desert change colour with the sequencial blooming of the desert flowers.
Blooming field of Doquilla emerging from the dry desert sand.
Blooming field of Doquilla emerging from the dry desert sand.
The extraordinary flower bloom also encourages the proliferation of insects and the presence of several species of birds and lizards. The event is spread over an area of almost 200 kilometres between the south of the city of Vallenar to the north of the city of Copiapó, in both coastal areas and towards the interior sectors and the mountain range. The phenomenon extends from September through November with a peak in the second half of October.
Climatically, the event is related to El Niño (ENSO), which involves warming of the ocean currents along the coast, leading to an increase in precipitation. This past winter (Southern Hemisphere) was particularly propitious with amounts of rain not seen for the past 20 years. The bloom of the spring 2011 has been exceptional.
Close-up of Doquilla /  Pata de guanaco   (Cistanthe grandiflora).
Close-up of Doquilla / "Pata de guanaco" (Cistanthe grandiflora).
Some rare plants grow on top of the large cacti.
Some rare plants grow on top of the large cacti.
Succulent desert plants show their bright green color contrasting with the blooming flowers.
Succulent desert plants show their bright green color contrasting with the blooming flowers.
The bloom includes about 200 species of flowers, many of them endemic to the region (not present in other parts of the world). Different species of flowers predominate in coastal or inland areas toward the mountains, and they bloom sequentially between September and November. The most abundant species are the so-called "Añañuca", "Lion Paw" and "Doquilla” (“Pata de Guanaco"), plus several cacti species that show their best during these months.
Desert flowers struggle for survival in the middle of one of the driest deserts in the world.
Desert flowers struggle for survival in the middle of one of the driest deserts in the world.
Cactus and other rare plants show their best appearance during the blooming season  after the occasi...
Cactus and other rare plants show their best appearance during the blooming season, after the occasional winter rains.
Numerous domestic and foreign tourists travel each year to Chile's Atacama Desert to witness the magnificent spectacle. In recent years, however, because of the large number of visitors, the cutting of flowers and extraction of cactus species (which constitutes a lucrative illegal trade), some environmental advocacy organizations have been reporting the possible destruction of this natural heritage. Some tourists even travel the dunes in 4x4 vehicles that cause severe damage to plants and reduce the potential for regeneration of the species.
Succulent desert plants show their bright green colors contrasting with the blooming flowers.
Succulent desert plants show their bright green colors contrasting with the blooming flowers.
Flowering Atacama Desert  Chile
Flowering Atacama Desert, Chile
J. Rubilar
Government authorities are developing and implementing information campaigns, bans and inspections, in order to facilitate the enjoyment of the magnificent natural spectacle while protecting the environment to minimize or eliminate the risk of damage to the survival of the species.
For additional pictures of the variety of flowers of the Atacama Desert, click here.
More about Atacama desert, Flowering desert, Chile, Copiapo, Vallenar
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