The Simpson desert covers more than 55,000 square miles of land in central Australia. The land gets very little rainfall, but that does not prevent plants and some animals from making the desert their home. There is a range of plant species that has not only adapted to life in the arid environment but has also become an important part of the desert's ecosystem.
The Georgina gidgee (Acacia georginae) is the only tree in the desert. This small, twisted tree features flat seed pods and greenish-brown leaves, both of which are poisonous. During rare desert rains, the tree emits a very unpleasant odor.
Sandhill canegrass (Zygochloa paradox) is found throughout the Simpson desert. This beneficial grass, which grows on the sand dunes, provides a home to many of the desert's creatures and also helps to stabilize the dunes. The stems collect water for the plant. This perennial grass sprouts after rare summer rainfalls, only to turn brown and appear dead the rest of the year. Even then, it serves its purpose of binding the sand.
Spinifex dune (Triodia basedowii)
Spinifex dune (Triodia basedowii) is another perennial grass that is found growing on the dunes in the northern part of the Simpson desert. This grass features waxy, curled foliage that helps prevent water loss through transpiration (water escaping through the leaves). The plant also has a spiky exterior, which helps protect the small animals that hide in the grass from predators.
Saltbush flats (Atriplex)
There are four types of these herbaceous shrubs found in the Simpson desert. They all have a high tolerance for salt and have a distinctive salty taste; hence the name. They are important forage plants for livestock and are used by ranchers that live on the edges of the desert.
Narrow-leaved hopbush (Dodonaea attenuata)
This common shrub is found in the dunefields. There are thought to be many of them because the wild rabbits avoid grazing on it. The narrow-leaved hopbush has thin, vertically-growing sticky leaves that attract ants. The shrub produces fruit that dries on the plant and turns an attractive pink color.
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