SANTIAGO – Every five to seven years, Chile’s desert blooms, producing a mauve-colored carpet of flowers, but this year the abundant rainfall in the northern plains over the past few months led to the most spectacular flowering in the past 18 years.
“The lack of frosts and rains associated with the El Niño climate phenomenon have resulted in the most flowering desert since 1997,” Pedro Leon Lobos, who runs the seed bank for the Agricultural Research Institute, or INIA, told EFE.
The heavy rains in northern Chile that caused mudslides and floods in March, killing 28 people and leaving tens of thousands of others homeless, nurtured the other face of nature now blooming.
Multitudes of suspiros (Nolana paradoxa), pata de guanaco (Calandrina logiscapa) and celestinas (Zephyra elegans) are transforming the desolate landscapes north of La Serena and down to southern Antofagasta into a multi-hued tapestry with intense, exotic scents.
After 10 years of drought, northern Chile was soaked this year by abundant rains and in different seasons, causing the flowering period “to continue abnormally until November,” Leon Lobos said.
The seeds of some 1,800 species of plants native to Chile that flower periodically spent five or six years dormant, enduring harsh dry weather and extreme changes in temperatures.
The seeds’ survival is leading to blooming lasting two or three months as part of these plants’ adaptation for surviving in the Atacama, the most arid desert on Earth.
The unusually intense rains this year stimulated the germination of the soil’s “dormant seed banks” and also attracted birds, insects, small lizards and rodents.
The greatest concentration of flowers in the region is in Coquimbo, from Pichidangui to Los Choros, in Atacama and also in the Andean foothills from Chañaral to San Pedro de Atacama.
“The Atacama flowering desert is more impressive because it changes from a sand expanse into large patches of flowers,” INIA botanist Marcelo Rosas said, adding that among the best spots for viewing the spectacle were Llanos de Challe and Pan de Azucar national parks.
Outside the parks, the zones where flowering happens have no protection.
The increasing number of tourists, along with the illegal trade in flowers and highway construction, poses a threat to the survival of some species.