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  • Ecological Transformation of Arrakis as it appears in Original Dune
  • Ecological Transformation of Arrakis as it appears in Expanded Dune

The Ecological Transformation of Arrakis refers to the millennia-long change of Arrakis from a barren, desert planet to a lush, verdant world.

Early Days[]


Pardot Kynes (10121-10175) was appointed Planetologist for Arrakis by Elrood IX in 10149. The 28-year-old ecologist was considered too young for the post by his enemies, and overdue such an appointment by his supporters. Public opinion aside, Kynes had already proven himself one of the leading practitioners in his field with his handling of the Cartha outbreak on Ecaz,[1] and was Elrood's logical choice.

From his arrival on Arrakis, Kynes’ relations with the Harkonnens, then-holders of that fief, were not great. The ecologist cared nothing for politics or intrigues; he simply wished to be left alone to study the desert planet and to report his findings to his emperor. Thus, the Harkonnens constantly interfered with, not least by their insistence that one or more of the House guard accompany Kynes at all times. Kynes, in turn, protested the restrictions this placed on him, avoided them whenever possible, and determined that the rulers of "his" planet would obtain as little information from him regarding its workings as he could provide.

Another division between the two was the Harkonnens' insistence on viewing Arrakis as a hellhole, fit only for producing its priceless spice and helping to keep its native workforce subdued. Kynes, on the other hand, soon became caught up in a vision: he became more and more convinced with each new study he conducted that Arrakis could be transformed into a gentler world, one on which humans could five without the constant threat of death from thirst haunting them.


By 10151, he had decided that only the Fremen, already capable of meeting the desert on its own terms, could possibly help him implement his scheme. In addition to their own innate ecological sense, the Fremen were the only people on Arrakis who did not bow in terror to the Harkonnens. They paid no fai, no water tribute, to the tyrants, and they were not above guiltlessly killing any outsiders foolish enough to invade their privacy. He would convert the Fremen, Kynes decided, as soon as the opportunity to enter one of their sietches presented itself.

In the spring of that same year, on a rare walking excursion without his Harkonnen guards, Kynes stumbled upon his entrée. Behind the section of the Shield Wall nearest the village of Windsack, he found half a dozen fully armed and shielded Harkonnen bullies toying with three Fremen youths, evidently planning to kill them leisurely, for sport. Kynes waded into the fray and killed two of the Harkonnen men with a slip-tip before anyone was aware he had joined the battle. By this time, the Fremen had downed two of the bullies on their own, but one of the youths was down as well, with a severed artery. Kynes dispatched one more Harkonnen, then, leaving the single survivor to his fate at the hands of the two Fremen, gave the third boy the medical attention he needed.

To the youths, not yet experienced in the ways of brutal necessity, the ecologist represented a water burden they did not know how to repay. Confused, they took Kynes back with them to their unnamed sietch overlooking Wind Pass to let the elders decide what was to be done with this most uncommon Imperial servant.

Once in the sietch, Kynes felt himself completely in his element. He lectured the amazed Fremen on a number of subjects — the best ways of anchoring dunes with grass, with trait-bearing trees might best be planted in the resulting greenbelts, pros and cons of qanat (open-trench) irrigation — but always returned to one magic topic: water. The Fremen listened, even as they debated what to do with this insane stranger who had saved three of their number, and marveled at his complete disregard for his own safety.

Kynes was clearly admired by most of the troop, and it was for that reason that his death sentence was delivered with a touch of regret. Still, the security of the sietch overrode all other considerations, and Uliet, one of the troop's most experienced fighters, was sent with a consecrated knife to carry out the sentence. Two watermen followed him, prepared to release the intruder's water for use by the sietch. It was an efficiency of which Kynes might have approved, had he taken time out from his lecturing to pay attention. As it was, the ecologist merely paused between sentences when Uliet approached. "Remove yourself," he is quoted to have said to his appointed executioner, then turned, leaving his back open. Uliet hesitated, and in that moment of hesitation, made a decision that would change the destiny of his people. Instead of striking the ecologist, he took three steps and fell on his crysknife, "removing" himself as ordered. The stunned watermen carried him off to the deathstill, and Kynes continued his lecture as if nothing had occurred. Not one member of the troop entertained the notion of questioning such an obvious message from Shai-Hulud. Kynes was meant to lead them; they, to follow him.


Beginning with a one-kilometer square area located in the deep desert (around 40°S latitude), Kynes ordered that the tribes begin the work of settling into the hitherto-uninhabited region. The first tribe sent out died, almost in its entirety, leaving only a pair of messengers to report back. Kynes listened to them, took careful notes, and sent out another group, this one better prepared. Numbering 150 on departing for the south, the tribe was reduced by half within the first six months. But the settlement was established nevertheless.

Kynes, during this time, was not idle. Under the unsuspecting noses of his Harkonnen overseers, he smuggled desert Fremen into his Biological Testing Stations. The Fremen studied, conducted tests, took tools and equipment back to their sietches with them for use in setting up hidden windtraps and water basins. With agonizing slowness, the basins began to fill, the water gleaned from the air being supplemented by that from the deathstills. With the sole exception of combat water, which by Fremen law belonged to the victor of a hand-to-hand fight, all water obtained by the sietches found its way into one of these basins. No Fremen would drink of it, no matter his extremity, on pain of losing his soul. It was the Water of Paradise, sacred beyond words.

The Harkonnens knew nothing of Kynes’ plan, nor of his Fremen. Behind the ecologist's back, jokes were made about his pleasure in associating with the "desert scum." Jokes which became even more vicious when it was discovered that he had taken Mitha, a woman from Sietch Tabr, as his wife, but no one dared mock him openly. Imperial servants, whatever their peculiarities, had power. Kynes had more than most, based on his popularity with the emperor and the natives of Arrakis. He was given a wide berth.

The first core samples taken from the trial zone, in 10152, revealed that the sand itself could provide most of the nutrients the Fremen's plantings would require, since much of it was produced as a byproduct of sandworm digestion. Dust presented a very real danger: even a relatively mild sandstorm could bury the trial zone. It was decided that some old, reasonably stable dunes would give the plantings their best chance — provided the problem of holding down the dust could be resolved.

While one group of Kynes-trained Fremen wrestled with the sandfixing puzzle, others were studying weather patterns, area climates, and the myriad other pieces of the ecological puzzle.

Major discoveries[]

Particularly curious was the existence of a few plants the Fremen discovered and cultivated. A rare native root plant, for example, which grew above the 2,500-meter level in the northern temperate zone, was often called "Gift to the Thirsty" because of its high water content: a tuber two meters long yielded half a liter of water, many times over the moisture that could be obtained from an equivalent weight in other vegetation. The water, the Fremen assumed, was not being drawn out of the atmosphere; somehow, the tubers were responsible for pulling it in. Where was it found?

Kynes worked like a madman, correlating data between groups, performing his own research, and doing the social dances required to keep the Harkonnens — and the emperor — ignorant of the real purpose of his work. If the strain tired him, he never revealed it to his Fremen, who had come to consider him one of their Umma, the brotherhood of prophets. It made no difference to Kynes what he was called, so long as progress was made.

Two last discoveries, arrived at within a month of one another, provided the data needed to begin the real work. One was that open water used to flow on Arrakis, while the other uncovered the mysteries of the sandworm:

  1. The verification by Kynes himself of the existence of a salt pan in the deep bled proved that there had been open water on Arrakis at one time; what had been, could be again. What they planned to do was possible.
  2. The mighty sandworms began their lives as sand plankton, then matured into the sandtrout form before becoming worm. It was the sandtrout phase — in which the "water-stealers" swam freely through the sand and sealed off all available water in the porous lower strata — which most worried Kynes.

If these animals could seal water so effectively, what was to prevent them from completely drying out any area his Fremen chose to plant? His fears were proven groundless when captured sandtrout were loosed in one of the Testing Station gardens. Try as they might, the sandswimmers could not perform their usual function in an environment choked with plant roots. They exhibited two reactions: flight and death.

More groups of Fremen were sent out, to establish other trial zones along the 40° line. With them they carried a variety of sophisticated drilling equipment and sandtrout-proof sheaths, as well as the usual material for constructing windtraps and temporary holding basins. If there was water to be found under the sand in their areas, they were prepared to dig for it; if not, the windtraps alone would have to suffice.

They also took seeds for a growth called poverty grass, a mutated version of the plant which had been engineered by Salim, one of Kynes’ first Fremen students. Tested in the Station facilities, the new grass had shown an encouraging ability to survive on only basic nutrients, airborne moisture, and a minimum of supplementary watering. In each of the dozen planting zones, it was planted along the downwind sides of old dunes, where it stabilized the sand against the prevailing westerly winds. This started a cycle: each stabilized area accumulated a higher windward crest after each sandstorm, which would in turn be planted with poverty grass, until sifs — barrier dunes of more than 1,500 meters high — were produced.

The work involved with the plantings was backbreaking, but moved quickly. In all but four of the test zones — in which the grass refused to take root — the barrier dunes were ready in a matter of months.


During this time Kynes had undertaken some new tabors. After weeks of careful inquiry and widespread bribery, he had arranged for an interview with Altenes and Garik of Ix, the two men responsible for governing the Spacing Guild. Without explaining his reasons, but using the Guild's sensitivities concerning its melange supply, Kynes arranged that the Guild not permit observation satellites to be placed above the deep desert on Arrakis. The large amount of spice which the Guild demanded as payment was not permitted to weigh against the need for the planted areas, known as palmaries.

With the barriers in place, planting in the eight areas continued. Species from all over the Imperium were brought in and tried, beginning with chenopods, pigweeds, and amaranth. Tough, stringy, and difficult for even Arrakis to kill, this trio took only two years to provide bands of growth that were stable and, in the protection of the sifs, expanding outward.

New plantings[]

This was the signal for slightly more fragile plantings to be attempted. Scotch broom, low lupine, vine eucalyptus (originally adapted for the northern reaches of Caladan), dwarf tamarisk, and shore pine were placed at each site. The mortality rate of these newcomers was higher than that of their predecessors, in spite of the care the Fremen lavished on them, but those plants managing to survive were toughened by the trial and promised to produce strong seed. Even such limited results were only obtainable at a tremendous expense of time and labor. Each plant was carefully tended, pruned, and cautiously watered; each was provided with its own dew collector to keep the additional moisture needed to a minimum. Aside from the work directly involved with the plantings, there was much support production needed: dew collectors, stillsuits, cloth, and all the other necessities for the sietch had to be manufactured.

Every member of the troop, at the earliest possible age, was expected to contribute. Fremen children, scarcely taller than the plants they policed, were taught to check dew collectors and remove dead or dying growths, and began instruction in the workings of Arrakis' ecology at age five.

Kynes’ own son, known by his troop name of Liet, was no exception. Mitha, the boy's mother, died shortly after his birth in 10156, and Kynes allowed the child to be brought up among the other children of Sietch Tabr. Liet, along with his peers, divided his time between in-sietch education and work at the various plantings.


Kynes, knowing himself to be under more or less constant surveillance by the Harkonnens, stayed away from the palmaries. But his was still the guiding hand, and when the reports from his Fremen (in 10160) indicated that the second-stage plantings were now thriving, he ordered the process advanced.

Flora and fauna[]

Candellilla, saguaro, and Bisnaga (or barrel cactus), were next in line, followed in 10163 by camel sage, onion grass, Gobi feather grass, wild alfalfa, burrow bush, sand verbena, evening primrose, incense bush, smoke tree, and creosote bush. Not all varieties took equally well at every site, but by 10167 each of the palmaries had more than tripled its original groundcover area, with increasingly large amounts of water being successfully tied into the root systems.

Animals were imported next: kit fox, kangaroo mouse, desert hare, and sand terrapin to burrow and keep the soil aerated; desert hawk, dwarf owl, eagle, and desert owl to keep the burrowers from overrunning the sites; scorpions, centipedes, trapdoor spider, biting wasp, and wormfly to fill other necessary ecological niches; and the desert bat, to keep the insects under control.

Finding the proper balances among the new arrivals took only two years — the ecologist-Fremen having learned their lessons well — and the palmaries were readied for their most crucial stage. More than 200 selected food plants, including coffee, date palms, melons, cotton, and various medicinals, were smuggled in from offplanet and dispersed among the palmaries.

Knowing how vital to their goal the survival of these plants was, the Fremen worked harder than ever. In some cases, around-the-clock watches were set up over newly planted areas to ensure their safety from raids by the nocturnal rodents. Whenever a plant failed, the remains were as carefully examined as an autopsied emperor.


Information was routed back to Kynes, chiefly through his son, who had become a sandrider at the usual age of 12. Liet's powers of memory and observation were good, and over the next three years he carried increasingly encouraging reports to his father. Of the varieties planted, over a hundred had been successfully cultivated without major change. Of those which remained, 75 had been discovered to be adaptable to Arrakis, through grafting, crossbreeding, or alteration of seeds by various external stimuli. (The Fremen Salim, beyond doubt Kynes’ star pupil, had assembled a group specializing in this type of treatment). Only thirty-odd plants proved absolutely incapable of surviving.

Sand plankton aversion to water[]

As the cultivated areas expanded farther, however, a strange phenomenon was noticed. Protein incompatibility was poisoning the sand plankton which came in contact with the new lifeforms. At the desert edge of each palmary, a barren zone was formed, saturated with poisonous water which none of the Arrakeen life would touch.

This was an unforeseen development, and one which Kynes did not feel competent to handle other than on an ad hoc basis. Fabricating a story about an obscure type of plant he wished to investigate at an outlying sietch, the planetologist managed to elude the Harkonnens and arrange transportation to the south. He made the 20-thumper trip in a palanquin, carried by his Fremen, as though he were a wounded man or a Sayyadina (a Fremen Reverend Mother), since he had never become a sandrider.

For three days after his arrival at the barren zone, Kynes locked himself into his yali, his personal quarters where no other would dare disturb him, and examined samples of the poisoned soil. On the morning of the fourth day, looking as haggard as a man who had walked in from the Great Flat, he emerged, and delivered electrifying news to the anxious Fremen.

The poison was a disguised blessing, a gift from Shai-Hulud. The addition of fixed nitrogen and sulfur to the chemicals produced by the decomposed sand plankton would convert the barren zone to rich soil in which their plantings could thrive. The speed with which the palmaries could expand would now be determined solely by the amount of labor the Fremen could afford them, and by the volume of water available.

The new advance cut down Kynes’ projected timetable for the transformation considerably — to a mere three and a half centuries. But the Fremen were a people who had learned patience at the hands of men with whips; they were content to wait, knowing that their labors would buy glory for themselves and a living paradise for their descendants.


The Desert War[]

The palmaries continued on the course Kynes had set, tenderly cared for by the Fremen and unknown to any outsiders for almost half a century. Kynes’ death in 10175, in a cave-in at Plaster Basin, caused no deviation from the plan. Nor did the Harkonnen-Atreides conflict, the demise of Liet-Kynes (who had inherited his father's place with the tribes) in 10191, nor even the ascension of Paul Muad'Dib Atreides in 10196. When the soldiers of Muad'Dib's Jihad left Arrakis it was with the knowledge that those left behind were also fighting for their cause by tending the palmaries.


Reign of Leto II[]

Not until 10221, when Leto II allowed himself to be transformed into the superhuman being (who would rule for over 3,000 years), was Pardot Kynes’ plan brooked. As wise and as farsighted as the planetologist had been, he had never imagined that his timetable might conflict with that of a god.

Leto II, just beginning his reign, needed time. He knew that he would continue, and perhaps hasten, the transformation which Kynes had initiated, but he had not yet decided at what pace it would be done. In 10221 he purchased a breathing space of several decades by destroying the qanats of four of the eight palmaries: Gara Rulen, Windsack, Old Gap, and Harg.[2]

Deprived of their water, the still-fragile plantings withered and died. This left only half the original number of green areas — Wind Pass, Chin Rock, Hagga Basin, and Tsimpe — to harbor Kynes’, and his Fremens', dreams. The Fremen, terrified by the sudden destruction, but unable to face abandoning their work, concentrated their efforts on the remaining sites and hoped for peace.

Leto II, once his rule was firmly established, gave them rather more than that. He brought the decades-old secret into the open, acknowledged the palmaries' existence, and made their advancement an Imperial priority. The Fremen were able to go on with their work at a pace which would have astonished and gratified Pardot Kynes.


By 10260, fifty palmaries, each larger than any of the original sites, were in various stages of completion. A century later, they had spread over enough of the Arrakis surface to establish the "self-sustaining cycle" which Kynes had originally predicted would occur. He had estimated that 3% of the green plant element would have to be involved in forming carbon compounds to start the cycle working, and he was very nearly correct. The actual figure was 3.92%.

After 10401[]

Last sandworm sighting[]

As the greenbelts and groves took over larger and larger segments of the planet, the native lifeforms, including the sandworms, were driven off into increasingly smaller reservations. The establishment of Kynes’ cycle signaled the end for them: the last sandworm sighting occurred in 10402, and the sandworm was in its death throes.

The Sareer[]

The God Emperor stepped in once again, ordering the placement of Ixian weather-control satellites over the small area of the planet which remained desert. While weather satellites had been in use on Arrakis to one degree or another since the rule of Leto II's father, these were intended for a use unique in the planet's history. Earlier satellites had been brought in to help gentle the fierce climate; these were intended to bring back some of that lost ferocity, to preserve one small piece of Arrakis, the Sareer, in as close to its original form as possible. The work for which the palmaries had been designed was completed, well ahead of the fondest expectations of the man who had first evisioned them. Arrakis, Dune, the Desert Planet, in a sense existed no longer.

See also[]


  1. 1 In 10148, Cartha fungus threatened to destroy Ecaz's entire fogwood crop; Kynes recommended importing spores of Kuenn's Fungus, a benign growth which crowded out the Cartha, saving the valuable wood.
  2. The eight palmaries were named for eight of the Imperial Testing Stations; in this way, it was hoped, they could be mentioned without alerting the Harkonnens.

Further references[]

  • Pardot Kynes, Ecology of Dune, tr. Ewan
  • Gwatan, Arrakis Studies 24 (Grumman: United Worlds)
  • Harq al-Ada, The Story of Liet-Kynes (Work-in-Progress, Arrakis Studies, Temp. Ser. 109, Lib. Conf.).