The Atacama Desert is one of the strangest and most beautiful natural phenomena occurring in the far north of Chile. This is a gigantic desert area that is characterized by its aridity, but in a few years, this barren desert landscape has changed abruptly becoming partly overflowing with bright and fresh colors, thanks to the germination of millions of plants and flowers. This unusual phenomenon is known as the “Flowered Desert” and offers the opportunity to witness a singular spectacle, full of spectacular beauties, which is worth attending, if you have the opportunity.
The phenomenon is caused by the winter rains that “El Niño” brings with it, another natural phenomenon associated with ocean currents and which has brought enough water to sprout and grow thousands of native species of the Norte Chico. The seeds began flowering in September, in a process that typically lasts until November.
The flowers and plants of the Atacama desert
Añañuca is a truly incredible flower if you think of the love stories and legends that surround it and that, in Chile, remember it. We have told the legend of him in this article
Argylia radiata is a native flower of the Atacama Desert. You can find it in the north of Chile or in the south of Peru. It is part of the Bignoniaceae family and resists really adverse climatic conditions with maximum temperatures of 34 ° C, minimums of about 2 ° C and annual rainfall of about 12 mm.
Rodophiala Laeta: Also known as purple añañuca, it is one of the rare flowers that bloom in the Atacama Desert and coastal areas of the country.
Heliotropium floridum: it is a 15-18 cm tall shrub with ascending branches. It blooms from September to November.
Garra de Leon or Bomarea ovallei is another endemic plant of the Atacama Desert. Its shape and color are truly unique and you will hardly find something equally beautiful around the world. It is at risk of extinction, therefore, if you are lucky enough to come across it, avoid touching it and limit yourself to some nice photos to share with friends.
Cistanthe grandiflora, better known as pata de guanaco. Endemica de Chile, it is one of the flowers that also grows in the Atacama Desert when it blooms.
Copiapoa is an origiral cactus from the Atacama desert area. Several specimens have been found stolen from the desert for an inestimable value and preserved in the Botanical Garden of Milan, until their reintroduction into their natural environment. For more info you can read our article here
Retamilla (Genista monspessulana): also known as French broom, this shrub with yellow flowers, as well as in the Atacama desert, grows in the hottest and driest areas of the Mediterranean.
The algarrobo is a tree belonging to the genus of mimosaceae and is very common in the Atacama desert
Dr. Francisco Squeo explained that the fact that vegetation is coupled to the climate is characteristic of the desert. In dry years, many plants are in recess, such as añañucas or chives, and annuals such as sighs and Pata de guanaco.
Dr. Squeo also works at the Center for Advanced Studies in Arid Zones (Ceaza), which qualifies him as an expert in the field. He also specified that this process is also related to the “Niño” and “Niña” phenomena, which bring with them many and few rains, respectively, in five-year periods. However, there is another less known climatic oscillation, called the Pacific Decadal, which occurs every 20-25 years, which generates the same effect on the delicate ecosystem of this area.
This has rainy phases called “Niña” and dry phases called “La Vieja”. The 80s and 90s saw the “El Viejo” phase where the “Niños” that took place were very rainy. From 1998 to 2025 there should be “La Vieja”, in which the “Children” who are to be born will be weak, it is said.
In the Coquimbo region there are 1,500 native plants, while in Atacama there are a thousand others. Most of them respond to rain and that is why flowers appear, bushes increase their biomass and fauna also increases.
As part of this phenomenon, native rodents have food and their populations grow the following year. And with the increase in herbivorous rodents, the following years the foxes, which hunt and feed on them, will tend to grow between the second and third rainy years, explained Dr. Squeo.
But as in everything beautiful, even here, the risk of loss of many species is quite high: from goats that eat all kinds of plants, to tourists who tear the flowers or remove the bulbs to resell them on the internet, they risk destroying or however, revive the ecosystem of a unique environment in the world.
Like all things subject to delicate balances, the species that germinate in the “Flowered Desert” must be protected to preserve their genetic and endemic heritage, which have adapted to these particular climatic characteristics, after several thousand years of adaptation, and for to which all contribution, will and commitment are required.