Saturday, November 22, 2008

(2) Marching Trees

As I began to review all the material I needed to better interpret
the desert, my co-workers suggested I travel over to the nearby
town of Palm Desert to visit their special garden-park called the
"Living Desert." Officials there were professionals, specializing
in the desert environment and its ecology. Through my own
efforts, as well as conferring with the scientists at Palm Desert,
I was able to gather together a lot of data about both the plant
life and the animal life rampant at Joshua Tree.

First of all, I have to admit how amazed I was to discover how
"alive" the desert is! Most of us probably figure that there isn't
much life in a desert, because of the incredibly harsh conditions.
Surprisingly life is crawling all over the place, or it is waiting
to burst forth when the few rains do come.

As for rain, when it does come, campers need be aware that
there can be flash floods--especially with water roaring through
previously dry riverbeds. But with the rain comes a myriad of
wildflowers, coloring the desert like a rainbow.

Also, one thinks of the cactus when it comes to the desert. I
found it fascinating how cacti have adapted in order to survive.
They have a wide-spreading, shallow root system. And they
collect water rapidly through this root system. Cacti store the
water in their stem, and they do not have water-losing leaves.
Rather, cacti have spines instead of leaves--and their spines
protect them from damage by animals. And their surface area
catches dew and drip-off.

Another representative desert plant would be Mesquite, different
from the cactus, Mesquite has extremely long roots, on average
30 feet long but some more than 250 feet long. Also Mesquite
has deep root "anchors" that guarantees that the plant will not
be washed away during a cloudburst. Growth is centered on the
root, then the above-ground part of the plant. The mature seeds
of Mesquite are protected by an extremely hard coat, which
prevents germination until the pod is cracked or broken.

Neither a cactus or a succulent, the Ocotillo is a deciduous
drought-resistant plant that can grow up to thirty feet high. The
Ocotillo's leaves respond to the presence of water, and in the
Spring produces orange-crimson flowers that can grow up to
six-to-ten inches. In turn the Ocotillo's flowers attract humming-
birds which transfer pollen. I was surprised to learn that evolving
over the years, the Ocotillo have survived by presenting their
flowers in time for the hummingbirds' annual migration!

I could continue with various plant examples, but rather I feel
that I should inject my opinion about these observations. As
any naturalist will tell you, the crux for survival is adaptation.
But I remain amazed over the "how" of this adaptation. There's
different media, different modes, but underlying all this--at least
in my opinion--is *intelligence.* Now I'm not even alluding that
this sense of a special intelligence is similar to our form of human
intelligence; nonetheless, over the millennia, these plants have
responded and evolved most intelligently.

A simple dictionary description of "Intelligence" is as follows:
the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. Well,
maybe not done on human terms, these plants certainly have
applied a knowledge of their particular environ and have
skillfully adapted their situation in order to survive successfully
in a very harsh place!

No comments: