Friday, June 24, 2016

Positive Interactions and Mutual Dependence between two Desert Plants

I caught this older 1978 black and white photograph by accident the other day while looking through some old archived literature on an unrelated subject. Mostly I was looking at mesquite dune references for building windbreaks or shelterbelts with native flora after removal of Tamarisk. I'm ever so thankful I made this find. It needs light shed on it.
Image is March 1978
Four-year old Prosopis tamarugo competing with native
 Atriplex atacamensis in the San Pedro de Atacama salt flat"

And so read the caption under the black and white photograph taken on March 1978 which was found down at the very bottom of this United Nations agriculture website. Can anyone appreciate the inaccurate misleading understanding back then regarding plant inter-relationships and mutualism ? Do I hear "Mother Tree" or "Nurse Plant" from anybody ? No of course not. Back then as today, we use hear people say that beautiful shrub or tree [depending on whether you champion the tree or shrub] in such a photograph seems to have the appearrance of being choked to death or strangled by the less desirable shrub. The times really haven't changed all that much with not only your average Gardener and commercial Landscaper, but also your average Professional Forester. Anyone else notice the word/term, "competing" being used in the description above of the two plants in that black and white photo ? Do either of those plants really look like they're suffering at the hands of the other ? There is an irresponsible blind faith religious concept called "Survival of the Fittest" which has done more harm than good and has set back positive scientific research more than anything else. Even today, Biomimicry leaves a foul taste in the mouths of some Ideologues who cherish an old inept Victorian Era worldview of our planet's natural world. I've seen such plant associations before, photographed them and written about them in this blog. Take a look below.

Photo Image - Kevin Franck (2013
This is an Oak tree at the bottom of my brother's property in  Ranchita California. This region in many ways is very much an interior high desert ecosystem. Very dry, cold/hot and windy at times from  any direction. And yet, take a closer look underneath that Oak tree. On a much closer inspection, this is Chaparral Honeysuckle (Lonicera interupta) and may seem odd at first being way out on this dry flat, especially considering it is still recovering from the infamous Pines Fire of 2002. Most likely some bird stopped at this Oak tree weigh station rest area and took a  dump which may have contained some Honeysuckle berry seeds. Or perhaps a Coyote or some other animal literally dropped by after dining. Yet from the appearance of vigoriously growing foliage, do we see one plant outcompeting the other here ? No!
Photo Image - Kevin Franck (2013)
This group of riparian trees above, Cottonwood, Willow and Mexican Elderberry are also associated with not only Snow Pea, but also Wild Rose. The area is east of Lake Henshaw in San Diego county cloase to the Junction of Hwy 79 & 76. Do any of these plants look to be out competing or chocking out their neighbours in some blind faith concept known as "Survival of the Fittest" ??? Hardly. But strongly entrenched blind faith human dogma concepts are hard to weed out. And yes, many evolutionary concepts which originated from an ignorant Victorian Era have held on to the present. Their continued presence in the textbooks has held back good science and ruined many an ecosystem ever since they were conceived in response to justification of a new preferred  worldview. What is needed is some major deprogamming and re-education.
 The plants in the black & white photograph. Prosopis tamarugo and Atriplex atacamensis

Image -
Tamarugo Forest or Bosque
The Tamarugo (Prosopis tamarugo) is a deciduous legume tree growing up to 18 m high, with a crown ranging from 15 m to 20 m in diameter. Its root system consists of a deep taproot (down to 6 m) with lateral roots (down to 1.5 m). Leaves are bipinnate with 10-15 pairs of 5 mm long leaflets. Spike-like inflorescences bear golden yellow flowers. Fruits are peanut-shaped pods borne in clusters, 2 to 4 cm long. They contain an edible pulp and ovate seeds (3-4.3 mm long).
image - Nomad Desert
"The tamarugo is native to Chile (part of the Atacama desert is known as Pampa del Tamarugal). It is also found in Argentina and was introduced into India and other saline deserts of the world. It can grow up to an altitude of 1500 m. It thrives on salty sandy soils or clay loamy soils with a salt encrustation to a depth of 60 cm. It prefers the normal desert climate: high day temperatures, a large day-to-night temperature range, almost total lack of rainfall and intense sunlight. Tamarugo can withstand 10 to 12 months of drought."
Tamarugo mist watering  on leaves
"At the beginning of the 20th century, the tamarugo was almost extinct when a forest inspector noticed its ecological interest and created tamarugo plantations in the Pampa del Tamarugal. Since then, the tamarugo has been used to afforest saline deserts and has increased the overall productivity of the Tamarugal. The tree absorbs air moisture through its leaves and dispatches the collected water to its roots and to the surrounding soil, thus participating in the protection of soil water reserves. It is also a windbreaker and protects animals and people from the sun." 
There are a number of amazing qualities about this species of Prosopis (Mesquite) and others. They can all be long lived. Often 100s, 500 to 1000 years old. One particular tree in South American country of Peru, a Hurango (Prosopis pallida), is in fact called the "Milenario de Hurango" because it has been found to be estimated at 1074 years of age. It was once part of a greater forest which has just about disappeared in the  Palpa region of Peru. As a land restoration tree, the Prosopis species in South America can access subterranean waters 60 meters (almost 200 feet) deep by means of a large tap root. It is one of the few trees/plants which can tolerate saline soils and transform such otherwise inhospitable landscapes into usable fertile soils. Part of the salty soil tolerance comes from it's association with micro-organisms on their root systems. 
Cachiyuyo (Atriplex atacamensis) 'Saltbush'
Taken on November 22, 2014 - Lucas Burchard Señoret

Planta del Desierto. Cachiyuyo (Atriplex atacamensis)
Chiu Chiu. Calama. Loa. Antofagasta. Chile

This plant in the photo above is what is commonly known by name as "Saltbrush" which where I come from is one of the few plants which will grow on saltflats of Coachella and Imperial Valleys. Atriplex is the plant referenced in that black and white photograph at the beginning of this post. It's not exactly an ornamental one we would chose for the urban landscape, nor even a specimen sought after by collectors of California Native Plants, but never the less it does have some amazing beneficial qualities. For example after stumbling upon the subject of Prosopis tamarugo from South America on the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations website and the negative reference at the bottom of that page where gives the impression that the Atriplex was being demonized as the villan and Tamarugo as the victim. I realized that neither was true because from my own personal experience in researching on how nature utilizes sophisticated complex mechanisms for survival and success, the truth is clear that this has zero to do with "Survival of the Fittest" and more to do with survival of the mutually cooperative. Take a look at this one paragraph from the above book published in January 2007, titled:
"Positive Interactions and Interdependence in Plant Communities"
"Studies by Jose Facelli and Amada Temby (2002) in Southern Australia have also demonstrated a complex array of facilitative and competitive mechanisms working simultaneously in interactions between shrubs and the annual plants that grow around them. Shrubs altered soils, the seed bank, the effects of large vertebrates, and the subcanopy microclimate. But in a very interesting contrast to many other studies in similar systems, canopy effects were negative, reducing the effects of annuals, where as the roots of one shrub species, Atriplex vesicaria, facilitated annual species growing on the edges of it's canopy. Trenching around Atriplex shrubs decreased the abundance of annual plants. Facelli and Temby attributed the positive effects of Atriplex shrubs to hydraulic lift, and the decrease of nearby annuals after root severing to impeding the flow of water from the roots into shallow soils. Both positive and negative effects occurred in this system, but the typical of mechanisms in this system were reversed, with canopies inhibiting and root facilitating understories."
 (book source - short version)
 The mechanical benefits of hydraulic lift and redistribution of water to other plants within desert communities is fascinating and too the ability tolerate saline soils is also important when such soil degradation around the globe is increasing. Aside from being viewed as an important habitat creating tool, there are also some claimed health benefits to consumption of certain varieties. As always, thorough research and investigation on the part of those interested in such benefits and plant identification should be pursued. 
OrganicFacts: Potential health benefits of Saltbush (also known as saltbush or orache) for members of the Atriplex genus
Some concluding remarks on these plants and related ones & their landscape restoration value to people
Photo Image - BBC

The remarkable nitrogen-fixing Prosopis trees are an important source of food, forage timber and fuel for the local people of South America. But what is more important from a restoration self-sufficiency standpoint and something the average person knows very little about (if anything) and very few researchers are able press forward into the mainstream science education are the subjects - Hydraulic Lift & Redistribution - Hydraulic Descent. As referenced above with the plant Saltbush (Atriplex atacamensis) which can pull to the soil surface subterranean moisture to the benefit and well being of other plants around it. So too can the Prosopis species not only employ hydraulic lift and redistribution to entire plant ecosystems, but as other researchers have pointed out, they have the ability of removing vast amounts of surface waters during the rainy season and pumping this water deep underground, recharging aquifers and later utilizing these stores when the hot summer months appear. They also accomplish this task while still dormant in winter. The majority of these old growth Mesquite bosques are long gone. The evidence points to human stupidy and greed as the reason for their absence. The stupidity will be ongoing if they continue to ignore their value in hot dry arid saline soil desert regions which have also increased in temperature due to lack of vegetation cover. The companion planting of differing plant species is also another topic that should be shoved down people's throats until they're blue in the face. It's for their own and nature's good. Even now in one of the other links I've provided below, research is being done on experimenting with companion planting of Lavender & Arizona Cypress which have been observed to form healthier mycorrhizal associations and plant establishment. The old school science-based conventional ways of doing things is slowly killing this planet and biomimicry is going to come to the fore more and more. The bogus reforestation concept of stripping land bare of all competing shrubs so that more economically and aesthetically pleasing trees may flourish has done more harm than good and it continues. Most of this newer scientific understanding of plant mutualism will fall on deaf ears when it comes to human government and giant corporate business interests back by industrial science. However, it's hoped that such info will benefit small communities around the globe, habitat restoration groups, urban landscapers and home gardeners who more often have a passion for the natural world and a biomimetics approach which totally eliminates these destructive conventional science-based technologies. The pursuit of such conventional textbook mandates have over the past 100+ years degraded this planet to the point of serious climate disruption. At the bottom of this post below the references is one such interesting tool which could be of benefit to many. I'll post a link later.

Some interesting links and other references
Food & Agriculture Organization of U.N. - Prosopis Part I

The Huarango and Algarrobo forests of coastal Peru: rays of hope

BBC - Tree planting in the driest place on Earth

Science Direct: Lavandula species as accompanying plants in Cupressus replanting strategies: Effect on plant growth, mycorrhizal soil infectivity and soil microbial catabolic diversity
Hydraulic Lift and Redistribution of Water for the Benefit of other Plants in San Diego County
Adenostoma fasciculatum (chamise or greasewood): Worthless Brush or potential Nurse Plant ???

Photo Image: Groasis-Waterboxx
I have another post on this very subject of mutualism where an ingenius product by a company called Groasis-Waterboxx has experimented throughly [with the help of it's own customers] and successfully in hot dry desert regions around the globe. Even practicing planting with mycorrhizal inoculum and companion planting with two differing species of plants for successful establishment as you see in the photo above. Stay tuned.
Update June 27, 2016: 
Okay, here is the link I've created on companion planting using the Groasis-Waterboxx Cocoon. Their website also has vast amounts of tips, ideas and documented testimonials on the successes with this device. Enjoy:
How to Biomimic Nature's Companion Planting & the Reasons You Should

Image - Groasis-Waterboxx

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