Remote and forbidding, the Simpson Desert stretches across 68,145 square-miles in central Australia. Known for its iconic red sand dunes, the Simpson Desert is comprised of numerous smaller habitats including seasonal creek-beds, rolling grasslands and expansive salt flats. Only a handful of plant species exist in the Simpson Desert but those that do thrive despite the region's harsh aridity and extreme temperatures.
Found amid the sand-dune areas and along the shores of seasonal lakes, sandhill canegrass (Zygochloa paradoxa) is a hardy perennial species of grass found solely within the Simpson Desert. Known for its characteristic mound-like shape, it grows to 5 feet in height with a globular, spreading growth habit. It spreads via underground rhizomes, colonizing vast tracts of unstable sand, which it helps to stabilize against soil loss. Following the rainy season, sandhill canegrass blooms briefly, bearing a profusion of tiny, understated flowers.
Four species of Mitchell grass (Astrebla spp.) thrive across the Simpson Desert, each specialized to thrive in the region's many distinct ecosystems. The most common variety, Mitchell hoop grass (Astrebla elymoides), dominates the vast grasslands of the desert's outer edges, appropriately called the Mitchell grasslands. Growing to 1 1/2 feet in height, Mitchell hoop grass thrives amid the relatively moist soil of seasonal waterways, where it propagates through profuse seeding. It is readily distinguishable from other varieties of Mitchell grass by its weeping growth habit and pendulous, hanging seed heads.
Growing to 3 feet in height, blackseed samphire (Tecticornia pergranulata) is a type of succulent shrub found amid the dunes and saline flatlands of the Simpson Desert. It thrives in alkaline and saline soils, where it quickly develops its characteristic reddish hue. Unusual in appearance, blackseed samphire sprouts from a woody stem, sending out a dense mat of succulent, segmented branchlets that resemble a string of flattened beads. In spring and early summer, a crown of tiny, insignificant flowers appears around the tips of the branchlets.
Few trees thrive amid the harsh and nearly lifeless interior of the Simpson Desert, although small stands of gidgee trees (Acacia geoginea) do exist in the eastern portion of the desert. Sometimes reaching 25 feet in height, gidgee trees are relatively small but possess a spreading growth habit of airy, pale-green leaves that provide light shade for understory plant life. They are an important source of lumber for people in the region and are extensively harvested for that purpose.
- "Australian Native Plants: Cultivation, Use in Landscaping and Propagation"; Murray Fage; 2004
- "Simpson Desert: Natural History and Human Endeavour"; Mark Shephard; 1994
- "The Austraflora A-Z of Australian Plants"; Bill Molyneux; 1998
- Photo Credit Natphotos/Digital Vision/Getty Images
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