A method of withstanding the desert environment is remaining dormant. Species that implement this method are known as ephemeral plants. They generally live as adults for less than a year, surviving the lack of water by remaining dormant in seed form and then sprouting very quickly in the wake of a rain. Their sprouts grow very rapidly. Flowering takes place in a very brief time thereafter, and thus the plant’s entire life cycle can progress from the seed to the seed-production stage in a matter of just a few weeks.
Rainfall in the desert is irregular, and undependable. If the seeds of ephemeral plants were all to sprout after a single rainfall and then wither during the subsequent drought, their species would become extinct. Yet most of these plants possess mechanisms that ensure that the seeds sprout only after receiving a large, soaking quantity of rain. These plants possess a property known as seed polymorphism, which is the ability to vary the time of their seeds’ sprouting. In addition, a natural chemical in the seeds retards their germinating. When water first reaches the seed, its rising to the surface stage is completed. However, this protective substance must be thoroughly neutralized if the seed is to sprout—which takes place with the seed’s second contact with water. But if this second encounter does not take place—in other words, if it does not soon rain again—then the seed will not sprout. Therefore, seeds require two separate stages; the first causes the seeds to float to the surface, and the second rinses away the substance that prevents germination. Sprouting occurs only after this has taken place.
The seeds of other ephemerals—for instance, those of the bitter melon—sprout only in the dark. The external coating of the seeds changes after a series of wetting and drying out and permits oxygen to freely enter the seed embryo. The combination of these essential factors causes the seed to sprout, but only after being buried and receiving moisture a number of times.
In the germination of these plants, there is a flawless order, plan and calculation. Everything, with every stage, is determined in advance. All precautionary measures are taken against possible adverse conditions in order that the seeds should not sprout needlessly.
So to Whom belongs the intelligence and knowledge that determine this system for the formation of ephemeral plants, and creates for them in the most ideal form for the conditions they live in? The plant’s cells? The seed itself? Or did this immaculate and complete system come into being by chance? The illogical nature of these questions is obvious. These plants, with the ideal characteristics for their habitats, are the sublime creation of Allah, Lord of the Worlds.
Another group of desert plants shed their leaves during times of drought. As their source of water declines, these plants immediately shed their small leaves. One example of this is the plant Ocotillo. This plant goes dormant during drought conditions and remains in that state until it rains. But when rain falls, it immediately begins to sprout a new set of leaves. Some bushes possess this feature also; but they do not become dormant, because they are sufficiently resistant to live on the water and nutrients stored in their special underground rhizomes, until water in the environment increases again. These rhizomes develop horizontally under the ground and live for a long time.
The desert plants present a most impressive picture. Some are equipped with special systems and structures in order to survive in the desert, by storing water, camouflaging themselves or becoming dormant. Some use various chemical means to stop their seeds sprouting and as we have seen, employ a great variety of methods of protection against a habitat where the greatest obstacles and difficulties prevail. The sublime creation of these plants, thriving in an environment that humans would imagine to be completely inhospitable, once again reveal the infinite knowledge and artistry of Allah.