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The Green Planet | BBC One 30 January 7:00pm

The Green Planet | BBC One 30 January 7:00pm

Episode 4

Deserts are hostile to life – temperatures soar and plummet, and water, the stuff of life, is rare. Yet even here plants find a way.

A young Saguaro Cactus is vulnerable, and extreme heat can fatally dry it out. But those growing beneath ‘nurse’ trees get protection from the elements: adult Saguaros store rain in a pleated trunk which expands and contracts over the years.

Cacti protect their water stores with spines – water that the desert mistletoe plant wants. A mistletoe seed, falling in the droppings of mockingbirds, lands on a cactus spine and grows a long tentacle which enters the cactus’s body. The mistletoe grows inside it before bursting out as a bouquet of red flowers.

The Teddy Bear Cholla has the ultimate protection – a fuzzy coating of vicious spines. Bits fall off – young, new plants – that appear entirely protected. In this episode Sir David Attenborough bravely shows us just how vicious it can really be. But the Packrat has learned to handle them, building a living wall of Cholla around its den.

Desert plants play with time. The creosote bush grows just 2.5 centimetres over several decades. The Tumbleweed, Selaginella, rolls across desert dunes, unfurling and growing when it finds rain, before curling and rolling again. Buried seeds wait decades for enough rain to power a rapid explosion of life – a desert bloom.

The sudden blooming of the Tobacco plant is an opportunity for caterpillars. But at the first bite, the plant sends signals all of its leaves to release chemicals that call in insects and lizards to eat the caterpillars.

Seeds travel on the wind to the worlds desert islands. The most hostile, in the Gulf of Mexico, is a lump of rock whitened by the toxic droppings of sea birds. The Cardon cactus, which is resistant to the toxins, forms the world’s largest cactus forest.

Desert plants live on the edge of what’s possible – and climate change is their greatest threat. The Baobab Tree inhabits seasonal deserts. Elephants traditionally gouge moisture from the fast-healing tree but, with as temperatures rise the elephants are now doing more damage than the tree can deal with. Action to control climate change will be key to their survival.

January 30 @ 19:00
19:00 — 20:00 (1h)

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