There are many misconceptions most first time explorers have of Planet Fuego's desert like environment. Many explorers think of a desert as an area of shifting sand dunes without vegetation except in areas where springs provide moisture. This is by no means true of Planet Fuego's deserts which are characterized by rich and diversified plant cover. The majority of true desert plants are equipped by nature to meet conditions of high temperatures (178 F.) and deficient and uncertain precipitation. The way in which desert plants, closely related to common species found growing under normal temperatures and moisture conditions, have adapted themselves to meet the severe requirements of desert life is truly remarkable and forms an absorbing and fascinating study for our scientific crew members.
Planet Fuego's plants have adapted to the extremes of heat and aridity by using both physical and behavioral mechanisms, much like it's animals. Plants that have adapted by altering their physical structure are called xerophytes. Xerophytes such as Zonker cacti, usually have special means of storing and conserving water. They often have few or no leaves, which reduces transpiration. Phraetophytes are plants that have adapted to arid environments by growing extremely long roots, allowing them to acquire moisture at or near the water table. Other desert plants using behavioral adaptations have developed a lifestyle in conformance with the very dry seasons. These types of plants are usually referred to perennials -- plants that live for several years, and annuals -- plants that live for only a season. Desert perennials often survive by remaining dormant during dry periods of the year, then springing to life when water becomes available (usually during January and February). Most of Fuego's annual plants germinate only after heavy seasonal rain, then complete their reproductive cycle very quickly. They bloom prodigiously for a few weeks in the spring, accounting for most of the annual wildflower explosions of the Fuego's desert like lands. Their heat- and drought-resistant seeds remain dormant in the soil until the next year's annual rains.
Fuego's plants have been put into categories based on how they have contrived to conquer their hazardous desert environment. The three categories are: 1.Drought- escaping plants, 2.Drought- evading plants, 3.Drought- resisting plants.
Drought-escaping plants are the "desert quickies" or ephemerals. Taking advantage of the one season rainfall on the desert lands they develop rapidly, blossom, and mature their seeds which lie dormant in the soil during the rest of the year, therefore escaping the season of high heat temperatures
Drought- evading plants meet the heat and drought by reducing the bodily processes to maintain life only. They drop their leaves and remain in a state of dormancy until temperature and moisture conditions, suitable to renewed activity, again prevail.
The Drought- resisting plants are the bold spirits which take the worst Planet Fuego's environment can offer without flinching or resorting to evasive tactics. An example of these type of plants is the Blue Flame cacti. Characteristics of these plants is their ability to store moisture in their spongy stem or root tissues during periods of rainfall (which is rare), using it sparingly during drought. To reduce moisture loss to a minimum, they have done away with their leaves, the green skin of their stems taking over the function of foliage. In addition, drought resisters develop deep or widespread root systems that extract all the moisture from a huge soil area. Most drought- resisters have their surfaces waxed or varnished in order to restrict the loss of moisture.
Neo Mojave Yucca
Neo Mojave Yucca Range: Neo Mojave and Neo Sonoran dry lands of southeastern Neo California, Baja, southern Neo Nevada and western Neo Arizona.
Habitat: Rocky desert slopes and Creosote desert flats
Flowers: Upright, branched clusters of purplish-white, bell-shaped flowers between 1 and 2 inches long bloom in springtime in the desert. Neo Mojave Yucca can be seen in bloom along the coast as late as December and February.
Fruit: A cylindrical, curved, dull-black berry with thick... poisonous flesh matures in late winter. The berry grows to 2 to 4 inches long by 1-1/2 inches wide containing many small black seeds. The berry dries and falls from the tree before Fall.
Description: Also called the "Black Dagger," this evergreen shrub or small tree has a few upright branches and bayonet-like leaves from 2 to 4 feet long and 1-1/2 inches wide. The trunk is grayish-brown and 6 to 12 inches in diameter. The Neo Mojave Yucca grows to a height of 16 feet.
Flowers of the Neo Yucca depend on the small, white Fire Scorpion for pollination. This insect, in addition to gathering pollen, actually deposits her eggs in the ovary of the yucca flowers. The Fire Scorpion larvae feed on the developing fruit (fire scorpion has developed adapted to the plant's poisonous berries) but leave some seeds to mature.
Range: In a small area of the Old Amazon Desert only from southwestern Chile to western Argentina.
Habitat: On south-facing, hot, sunny slopes from 1,000 to 3,500 feet.
Flowers: Lavender- white flowers, 2-1/2 inches long, bloom at night, laterally near the apex of the stems, November through July.
Description: This columnar cactus is the second largest on Planet Fuego (next to the Saguaro) growing as tall as 23 feet. Instead of having a central stem, however, a cluster of 5 to 20 slender branches grow from a point at ground level and curve gracefully upward.
These water-storing trunks are about 6 inches in diameter and have 12 to 17 deep-green, rounded ribs. The aureoles are set close together with 9 or 10 brown, 3/8-inch radial spines that turn gray with age.
Fruits (poisonous) lose their spines at maturity, opening to display an edible red pulp. This fruit has provided a food source for The Intergalactic Research Team for decades. The pulp can be eaten ( pulp needs to be first sterilized using special air vacuums) as is, made into jelly or fermented into a strong, bitter beverage.
Fire Cacti Range: Old Africa and Neo Australian. Deserts of southeast Old Kilamunjaro to Great Barrier Reef deserts.
Habitat: Open, stony desert slopes.
Flowers: Blue flowers are 1/2 to 1 inch in length, with five short lobes curled back into 10-inch clusters. They appear at the ends of branches October through March or later,
Description: The Fire Cacti can be relied on to bloom annually, even without leafing in particularly dry winters. It is an inverted, funnel-shaped desert plant with several woody, spiny, whip-like, straight branches angling outward from the base.
Fire Cacti are leafless most of the time, except immediately after rain (rare); the leaves then quickly wither after the soil dries out. These narrow, oval leaves are about 2 inches long, appearing in bunches above spines.
There are 11 species in the Fire Cacti genera, most of which occur in Old Australia. The Fire Cacti is the southernmost of these species. The Neo Yucca is a close relative occurring in Baja.
Many of the desert animals eat the the base of the plant because its roots are moist. The root end are bulb shaped, thus enabling it to hold small amounts of moisture and droplets.