Meet the Yareta: Ancient alien-looking giant green blobs in the Andes


High above the treeline and just below the permanent snowline at 3,500 m high in the Andes highlands of Peru, Bolivia, northern Chile, and western Argentina, a surprising diversity of birds and animals survive the extreme conditions. There, in the region called the Puna Grassland, Peru’s national animal, the vicuña, a relative of the llama makes a home. Temperatures are extreme, with an average of ranging from 41 to 45° F, with extreme shifts in highs and lows and constant harsh winds, but there is an ancient alien lifeform that calls this home: the Yareta (Azorella compacta), also known as “Llareta” in Spanish.

Amid a backdrop of jagged rocks and desert inhospitality, you can find enormous green blobs. The soft rounded shapes strikingly stand out and look like nothing else on the planet, though they bring to mind the blobular living stones called Trovants from Romania.

 

 

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The Yareta look soft, but that is an illusion. Tiny wax-covered green rosettes grow over a mound of tightly-compacted stems so strong they can hold the weight of a person. Instead of being soft to the touch, these plants are said to be slightly prickly, just like most things in the arid desert. This weird growth pattern protects the plant from the winds, which would otherwise rip the plants from the ground like so many green tumbleweeds.

These alien-looking plants are expansive in many cases, which means they are also incredibly old. The Yareta grows just one and a half centimeter a year. So if you see one that is large, that means it is thousands of years old. Some are believed to be over 3,000 years old, taking a century to grow a meter in size.

 

 

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Although the Yareta doesn’t look like any other plant, that didn’t necessarily protect them from the local people, who discovered the dry plant material burns quick like kindling. In fact, the plant burns so well that it was at one time used for fuel for locomotives. Imagine burning thousands of years of life away in seconds to power a short ride down the street! The Yareta was also claimed to have properties useful to make a poultice to treat sore muscles.

Fortunately, the plants are now protected and on the endangered list, though this is one lifeform that may survive climate change and outlive us all. These plants have seen it all and are still going strong, though fires certainly pose a big threat.

See a local person explain how Yareta plants were once used below:

 

As you take a look at these incredible plants, consider that they are related to commonly eaten vegetables and herbs from the grocery store. According to NRP:

“What kind of plant is this? In Spanish, it’s called llareta, and it’s a member of the Apiaceae family, which makes it a cousin to parsley, carrots, and fennel,” wrote Robert Krulwich for NPR.

These relatives to the carrot can be older than the Giant Sequoias of California, dating back 3,000 years, roughly to the time it’s thought that the ancient Sumerians first developed one of the first written languages. We’ve included shots with people for scale, but please don’t try to get on them if you are lucky enough to see them in person. Give the Yareta their space and enjoy them without damaging these ancient treasures.

Below, enjoy some stunning pictures of this fantastic ancient plant via Instagram.

 

 

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Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube


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Corbin Black

Corbin has written hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics, with a background in biology, art, and design. He maintains a healthy dose of skepticism while keeping an open mind on topics like extraterrestrials and unknown phenomenon. Every day, there is more fascinating news to ponder. He hopes to inspire that sense of wonder and imagination in our readers.