I think Saturday is a good day to reprint a longish excerpt of a trip to Peru.
(T)he Atacama Desert is not entirely barren….
Tall, columnar cacti, similar in form to the saguaro of our own Sonoran Desert, become increasingly common north of Lima, Peru, and south of the line that marks the Southern Hemisphere’s winter equinox. Trichocereus [Ed: Now called Echinopsis] cactus is one of the giant cacti I encountered and in places it was abundant….
Individual cacti approached 24 feet in height and were often the dominant plant species across vast areas….
I noticed the giant cacti rarely contained woodpecker nest cavities though both the striped woodpecker and Chilean flicker are known to follow the giant cacti into the Atacama….
At both the southern and northern edges of the Atacama succulents are easily the most abundant perennial plants…. One of the most abundant succulents was a agave-like plant that belonged to the pineapple family.
Nearly all of these succulents have shallow roots, lying within an inch of the surface, indicating they can utilize moisture from light showers or heavy fog. This adaptation, however, is not the only reason for their abundance….
For hundreds of years domestic goats have been used as a source of milk and meat throughout Peru and Chile…. The normally rich variety of water-loving plant species found around desert springs and streams is absent in the Atacama. Nearly every spring has become a home site and the immediate vicinity has become completely defoliated by the owner’s livestock. Over vast areas the only vegetation remaining is represented by those plant families that are unpalatable to goats.
So the key to cactus success is that they are not delicious to goats. True enough.