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Desert Diary


There are a whole bunch of words containing the prefix or suffix "phil" (that's p h i l), meaning "having a love of". Philanthropist, a lover of mankind; philatelist, a person who loves, and thus collects, stamps; Anglophile, a lover of the English; and so on. Though we generally don't think of plants as having the ability to "love" anything, don't tell that to a botanist. Over near Carlsbad, New Mexico, and at other sites in the Chihuahuan Desert, there are plants known as gypsophiles. No, this doesn't mean plants that love gypsies. Instead, this refers to plants that grow only on soils derived from gypsum.

Gypsum is the stuff that wallboard and plaster is made of. Chemically, it's hydrated calcium sulfate and is notably unfriendly to most plants, though some kinds are able to grow, if only through great effort, on gypsum soils. The gypsophiles, however, not only don't have to struggle, they absolutely demand gypsum. They are so adapted to this mineral that they refuse to grow on what we usually consider normal soils. Now, that's true love!
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest. rule

Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.