Strange green blobs are taking over the Atacama Desert in the Chilean Andes. But it’s a pretty slow conquest. At a growth rate of less than an inch (1–2 cm) per year, llareta (yar-AY-ta) plants are not likely to cover the mountain range anytime soon.
They’re hardy plants, reaching 10 to 20 feet (3–6 m) across. If you do the math, you’ll come to a remarkable conclusion: at that growth rate, plants this big must be old. In fact, the llareta is considered one of the oldest organisms on earth. Scientists estimate that some are more than 3,000 years old.
Llareta grows in the very dry air and harsh sunlight at high elevations, above 10,000 feet (3200 m). One reason it survives so well is its extremely dense growth. Llareta’s surface is so crowded with tiny leaves, and its stems are so densely packed, that a person can stand on a plant without breaking it. That density holds in the heat during subzero nights.
It also makes for cool photos. Even in the austere high desert, we find God’s artistry at work.