Ever see a lush, green, tropical-looking plant hanging out in the middle of the desert before? If you happen to live in a desert, say Arizona or somewhere, get some desert rhubarb – rheum palaestinum to the Latin buffs – and plant it in the sand. Then watch these huge biological rain tarps start to spread out with ridges that look like the Himalayas. Maybe, if you wait long enough, you can do desert harvesting and make a nice desert rhubarb pie. Don’t forget to add strawberries.
The physical structure of the desert rhubarb allows for it to maximize its use of rainwater, being about 16 times more efficient than other plants on average. But it’s not only the shape the does the job. As reported by Wired this month,
“When the researchers measured the plant’s water absorption during a light rain, they discovered that water infiltrated the soil 10 times deeper around the desert rhubarb than in surrounding areas. Upon closer examination, scientists discovered deep grooves around the plant’s veins, which are coated in a waxy cuticle that helps channel water down to the root.”
If you’ve ever been to a baseball game experiencing a rain delay, you’ve seen the giant tarp they spread out on the field. The rhubarb’s leaves are basically nature’s tarp. But don’t be confused – it’s not the fact that desert rhubarb can survive in the desert that is so unique. There are cacti, after all. Rather, it’s the fact that the plant looks like it’s something out of the rain forest with such a deep root system. Usually, those types of plants need to be rained on every day to sustain themselves. But evolution helped out here, and now we can really make the deserts bloom green.
I wonder what would happen if we actually did that. For now, I think I’ll find one and put it in my backyard. I’ll let you know how the pie turns out.