the world’s driest inhabited continent with 70% of its landmass being
deserts or semi-deserts.
It is a harsh country for plants to live – it
is extremely dry and it gets periods of drought
that can last for years. It is extremely hot, with temperatures in 50s
(°C) during the summer so if it does rain, evaporation is quick. The
soils are ancient, rich in salt and extremely infertile. How can plants
handle all this, and what plants are found in Australian deserts?
Ausralian desert landscape, by AllPosters. Click on
thumbnail to buy
Trees and Shrubs
Some of the trees found in Australian deserts are the beautiful Ghost
Gum (Corymbia sp.) which is almost iconic with its
silvery white bark; Mulga (Acacia aneura),
spicatum); Northern Cypress Pine (Callitris
Sandhill Wattle (Acacia ligulata); and Western Myall
papyrocarpa). Some of the shrubs found in Australian deserts
Narrow-leafed Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa), Emu Bush (Eremophila
glabra), Low Bluebush (Maireana artstrotricha),
Saltbush (Atriplex vesicaria) and Bullock Bush (Alectryon
Spinifex grass. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail
Grasses and Desert Wildflowers
The grasses that cover Australian deserts
are hummock grasses, commonly known as Spinifex Grass. In semi-deserts,
Mitchell Grasses are more common. Some of Australian many desert
wildflowers are Sturt’s Desert Rose, (Gossypium sturtianum)
Native Buttercup; the famous Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos
Sturt’s Desert Pea (Swainsona formosa) which can
weeks when it’s raining, then it just closes up and waits for more
Kangaroo Paw. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to
Australian Desert Plants Adaptations
We usually think of a desert as a hot place. But that’s not what
defines a desert. Australian deserts are hot, but there are also cold
deserts in other parts of the world. What defines a desert is the
amount of rainfall, which is extremely low. In Australian deserts,
the rainfall is extremely unpredictable, so the plants have to have
adaptations that allow them to survive without water for an
unpredictable time. Different plants have different adaptations.
Sturt’s Desert Pea. Poster by
on thumbnail to buy
Australian Desert Plants: Drought Avoiders
Some Australian desert plants simply avoid the drought:
when the rains come along, they sprout out, quickly reproduce and die
just weeks later. Their seeds are covered in chemicals that don’t let
them germinate. When the rains come along, that chemical is washed away
and the plants start growing.
Ghost Gum. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy
Drought Resisters: Adaptations to Consume a Lot of Water
Drought Resisters are plants that have adaptations that allow them to
live through the periods of drought.
Many Australian desert plants such as trees and scrubs have either a
very deep root system that reaches to the groundwater, or a very
spread-out root system which extend far beyond the tree canopy and lie
just below the surface. These extensive root systems can capture a lot
of water once the rains come along.
Drought. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy
Drought Resisters: Adaptations to Store a Lot of Water
It’s not only about getting the water, it’s also about storing the
water. Plants that conserve water in their leaves, fruit, stems or
roots are called succulents. Because water escapes through leaf
surfaces, a common adaption is to reduce that surface. Many desert
plants have small spiny leaves, often long and slender. Some have
glossy leaves to reflect the sun’s heat, others have waxy leaves to
prevent the water from escaping. Yet others have powdery surfaces, or
surfaces covered in small hair. Some plants also have behavioural
adaptations – they can turn their leaves edge-on towards the sun, or
only open their pores during the night when it’s cooler and evaporation
rates are lower. Some desert plants are nearly leafless, some curl
their leaves and some drop their leaves during the dry periods.
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