Dimmitt, Mark, Gavenus, Erika, Hedgcock, Charles | May 11, 2017 | Baja elephant trees (Bursera microphylla) by Mark Dimmitt
Have you ever tried looking for shade in the desert only to find that the plants are unable to fully block the intense sunshine? What might feel like a particularly unkind slight in your time of desperation, is actually an incredible adaptation of some desert plants. Iain Robertson, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Washington, first recognized this property of desert plants in the mid-1990s and began using the term diaphanous plants to describe them. Unlike plants from wetter habitats that boast leafy, dense canopies, diaphanous plants have such sparse stems and foliage you can often see right through them. In a land of intense sunlight and limited water, diaphanous plants have adapted to minimize transpiration and sun exposure. In adapting to their extreme conditions these plants are largely unique to the desert and hard to find in more forgiving systems. But in the Sonoran Desert they thrive, their odd forms defining the landscape.