Gobi Desert Plants

The Gobi is not empty wilderness. The desert is home to six-hundred types of Gobi desert plants, thousands of nomads, and hundreds of animals - including camels.

In fact, Mongolians define 'gobi' as land with enough plants to maintain a camel. Less vegetation than that and the desert ain't gobi anymore!

Gobi Desert Plants And A Bactrian Camel

You will find the Gobi in southern Mongolia and northern China. It doesn't rain much - the rainfall increases from an annual average of two inches in the west to eight in the east.

With most rainfall in the east, it's not surprising that the eastern Gobi has the most Gobi desert plants - and the most inhabitants. But even with all that rain the Gobi cannot support crop plants and Gobi society has developed a nomadic lifestyle.

So, what plants will you find in the Gobi desert?

The Wild Onion

Wild Onions In The Gobi Desert

The wild onion comes close to top of the deserts browse plants. Used for both medicine and food, it's crucial in spring for helping revive winter-starved herds. Nomads assert that it's this plant which gives fermented camel milk its hazelnut undertone.

The Goyo Plant

If you don't like hazelnut, how about banana!

Goyo plants taste like a cross between an unripe banana and celery. But beware, many say these plants are poisonous and a favorite haunt of the Mongolian death worm!

Sauxal Forests

The most dominant and resilient of the Gobi desert plants is a shrub called the Sauxal. Take a look at this picture of my son and me walking through a Sauxal forest...

Sauxal Forest In The Gobi Desert

As you can see, the trees and plants in this forest aren't exceptionally large! The Sauxal can grow twelve feet high, but in the Mongolian desert shrubs and plants rarely reach this height.

The Sauxal provides habitat for animals, fodder for camels, and fuel for nomads. The roots hold Gobi soil together preventing soil erosion and sand drift. The Sauxal grows in rock outcrops, gravel, and moving sand - making it the only plant found throughout the Gobi desert.

Desert Perennials And Annuals

The rest of the Gobi looks remarkably empty, but the desert is not as barren and lifeless as it looks! Gobi sand contains dozens of dormant plant seeds just waiting for a little water.

When the rain comes, it comes! The western Gobi's two-inch annual supply can land in one day. And when the rain hits, the desert perennials and annuals spring to life in a wild plants explosion!

A Gobi desert plants lifespan can last only days. You need luck to catch the show if visiting for a short time.

Desert Plant Adaptations

The Gobi desert experiences temperature extremes - the summer heat replaced with snow and ice in winter. Excluding the Arctic, no desert lies further north. This has led to several desert plant adaptations...

One group of plants absorbs carbon dioxide at night instead of the day; some have grown extra-long roots, allowing them to reach moreabundant water supplies;. Other plants display fewer leaves, helping them conserve water.

Come See For Yourself...

If you're interested in Gobi desert plants, I recommend staying north of the Chinese border. The Mongolian portion of the Gobi has seen less disruption and supports many more plants.

But make sure you travel with a top-class, environmentally responsible tour company...

Eco-friendly Mongolian Tour Operators

The Mongolian desert is not all sandy - it contains many eco-niches. To get a true appreciation of the diversity you will need to book your Mongolia tour with a top-notch tour company. Otherwise, you will likely speed past what you came to see and may even damage plants which you miss.

Jeep Driving Through Plants In The Gobi Desert

You should also consider safety when choosing a tour company.

Useful Tip: ask tour companies what they recommend you take with you. If they fail to mention a hat, sunglasses, sun cream, and lots of water, choose another company.

Click here if you would like a recommendation on a tour operator which best matches your plans.

Take care when deciding when to visit. Gobi desert temperatures range from fifty-degrees Celsius to a low of minus forty Celsius. Check out my Mongolia weather page for more advice.

One Plant To Avoid

Oh, one more thing before you go...

Mongolian Nettle

You could encounter the plant above anywhere in the city, steppe or desert. Don't touch it! These plants aren't deadly but they're the Mongolian equivalent of the nettle and can give you a nasty, long-lasting sting!

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