Atacama desert (located about 600 kms north of Santiago, Chile) has a yearly average rainfall of a mere one millimeter, with some areas receiving zero precipitation. This year they have El Nino to thank for waking up natures gems that are normally hidden under the sand and rocks.
The area received over 50mm of rain and that has turned the desert into an oasis of blooms, some from some very rare and endangered species.
Underneath the ground the rain has woken up bulbs and rhizomes that have lain dormant for decades. Normally flowers will begin to grow with only 15mm of rain, but this year with so much rain all the species have grown, about 200 of them! The last time there were this many flowers in the desert was 1989, of course there have been blooms since then, just not on this scale.
According to Carla Louit, Llanos de Challes National park director, there are more than 200 species of autochthonous flowers, 14 of which are at risk of becoming extinct. All of these species are native to Chilie and grow no where else in the world. One of the endangered species is Lion’s Claw (leontochir ovallei), an especially rare plant due to their bulbs being deeply buried and the heavy rainfall that is required for them to emerge.
To protect the plants Llanos de Challes National Park, which covers 45,000 hectares of desert, has only 5 guards so they focus on educating visitors to the area. Stopping visitors from digging up plants for planting at home is of prime importance, especially as the plants will not grow outside of the desert. One saving grace may be that the blooming desert is one of our beautiful planets best kept secrets. Only 1200 Chileans and 64 foreigners registered to visit the park this year.