Asters in the Badlands

Posted by on Sep 28, 2016 in flowers, summer | 0 comments

The Badlands. An incredibly arid, but weirdly beautiful landscape.  badlands

I often marvel at how plants can shove through cracks in cement or bloom in gravel or sand. But how can any wildflowers blossom in this ash-colored, bone-dry soil?

Plants need sun, of course, but here there’s nothing but sun. No trees, no shade at all. Even on a cool day, the constant sun can get to you. After a while you find yourself trying to fit into the three-inch wide shadow cast by a trail marker. Anything to hide from the glare badlands astersfor just a moment. But there’s nowhere for these asters to hide.

And apparently, no water. But there’s the occasional brief rain shower. And far below the rock-hard soil is a layer of groundwater. In this type of arid environment, there are two basic root “game plans.” Some plants go long, sending the roots to grow deep, reaching for the water supply far below.

Or, there’s the opposite strategy: go shallow. The roots can spread out like the spokes of a wheel, growing quickly to form a spiderweb of rootlets all around the stem. This wide net can grab up the water from the merest drizzle as soon as it hits the ground, before it can evaporate. Some plants, like these asters, use both: a wide network of shallow roots, followed by a long skinny taproot capable of penetrating to a depth of many feet. Somehow the threadlike roots manage to steal enough water for the asters to add their purples to the gorgeous badland colors.asters badlands

 

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