Incredible survival mechanisms of desert plants in Israel

Extreme heat, lack of rain, salty earth, drastic temperature differences, strong sun radiation, flash floods, irregular rain distribution – these are just some of the challenges that a typical plant in the Israeli desert has to face day after day…

The amazing fact is that the desert in Israel is abundant with various plant species! How could this be explained?! The answer lies in sophisticated survival mechanisms developed by the plants of the desert over ages of evolution.

To demonstrate these ingenious techniques we picked five fascinating plant species. Naturally, each of them has to struggle with most of the desert difficulties, but because going over them all would fill up a week’s seminar, we decided that for each of the five plants, we’ll highlight one mechanism for tackling one challenge….

1. Tamarisk (Tamarix), in Hebrew: Eshel . Challenge: Salty earth.

The Tamarisk is an inspiration for turning difficulty into strength in its way of dealing with the salty desert earth. Excess salt is harmful for plants as it is for humans, or any other living creature, but if you’re a plant in the desert, salty earth is part of the deal. For this reason, the Tamarisk has developed a mechanism for separating the salt from the fluids it absorbs from the earth and exuding it out through its leaves. But after this is done, another problem arises – the Tamarisk’s tiny leaves become coated with a thin, white, salt-coating which blocks the sunlight from reaching the leaves, meaning little or no photosynthesis! So now what?? Pay attention – this is quite amazing… The desert in Israel has about 150 nights with heavy dew (which is an important source of water for many plants, birds and insects). When the dewfall occurs, the salt accumulated on the Tamarisk’s leaves, stems and branches is washed off completely, and drips down to the ground with the condensed dew-water. After a heavy dew night, a Tamarisk would look as if it’s been washed with a hose, literally dripping with water. But that isn’t the end of it. Over time, having absorbed a huge amount of salt that has been washed off the Tamarisk, the earth around it becomes so salty that no other plant-seed can sprout and survive, consequently eliminating competition over resources for the Tamarisk. The huge challenge of living off salty earth has become the Tamarisk’s best guard against competitors!

2. Rose of Jericho, in Hebrew: Shoshanat Yericho . Challenge: Irregular rain distribution.