Scientists have discovered the world’s first ‘self-watering’ plant in Israel’s Negev desert – one of the driest regions on earth. The Desert Rhubarb can hold 16 times more water than its rivals and has developed a unique ability to effectively water itself in its barren habitat.
Researchers were confounded by the metre-wide plant’s giant leaves, compared to its desert counterparts, whose tiny leaves stop dangerous moisture loss.
But they found the plant’s large leaves are the key to its success, because they are covered in microscopic streams through which water can be channelled.
Scientists claim ridges in the leaves act like mountain valleys, funnelling the water slowly and directly into the plant while stopping it evaporating.
A team from the Department of Science Education-Biology at the University of Haifa-Oranim, in Israel, said the leaves act like a mini irrigation system.
Lead researcher Professor Gidi Ne’eman said “We know of no other plant in the deserts of the world that functions in this manner.
“We have managed to make out the ‘self-irrigating’ mechanism of the desert rhubarb, which enables it to harvest 16 times the amount of water than otherwise expected for a plant in this region based on the quantities of rain in the desert.
“These deep and wide depressions in the leaves create a “channelling” mountain-like system by which the rain water is channelled toward the ground surrounding the plant’s deep root.
“Other desert plants simply suffice with the rain water that penetrates the ground in its immediate surroundings.”
Results of experiments and analysis of the plant’s growth – in an area with an average annual rainfall of 75mm – showed that the desert rhubarb is able to harvest quantities of water that are closer to that of Mediterranean plants, reaching up to 426mm per year.
That is 16 times the amount of water harvested by the small-leafed plants of the Negev desert region.
The Negev makes up more than 50 per cent of Israel’s land area to the south of the country near it’s border with Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula.