How Do Desert Plants Adapt Themselves to the Conditions in the Desert?

Last Updated on February 2, 2023 by Derek

Deserts are very inhospitable to plants
Deserts have a lot of sand and not much else, but plants do survive by adapting

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More than 1/5th of the world is categorized as deserts. Found on every continent, a desert is an arid ecosystem that receives sparse rainfall (less than 10 inches or 25 cm).

Even though water is scarce, deserts have a thriving ecosystem of flora and fauna. The desert plants have developed unique adaptations to cope with the lack of water in the surroundings.

You will learn more about these adaptations in this article.

Plants Adapted to Deserts

Why do desert plants need adaptation? – class 4 zone

To understand why plants in the desert need to adapt, you must first learn about the living conditions in the desert.

There are two types of deserts in the world – hot desert and cold desert. Hot deserts are located in tropical regions while cold deserts are found at higher altitudes in temperate zones.

The temperature in both types of desert goes to the extreme. In hot deserts, the heat soars over 40°C (104°F) while in Cold deserts the temperature can go down to minus 2°C (28.4°F).

In addition to this, both hot and cold deserts have less water. There is a general lack of moisture in the air leading to dry winds blowing.

It is difficult for any living terrestrial creature to survive in these conditions. This is the reason why desert plants need adaptation to living.

Without adaptations, the weak branches and leaves of plants will wither in the dry wind. Also, they will not be able to collect and store water efficiently, leading to their death.

How do desert plants adapt themselves to the climate?

Cactus adapting to desert conditions
Cactus are a great example of how it’s possible for a plant to live with little water

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To deal with the harsh climate of deserts, plants have developed certain unique adaptations. The primary purpose of these adaptations is to minimize the loss of water.

For instance, desert plants have the following features which allow them to survive:

  • Deep-seated roots which travel deep underground to look for water. This makes the process of absorbing water slower. But the plant can take more quantities of water with deep roots.
  • Another root related adaptation is found in succulent plants. Instead of going deep under the ground, the roots of succulent plants are shallow. This allows them to quickly absorb the water on the surface.
  • The leaves of desert plants have a wax-like substance on them. This reduces the loss of water through transpiration.
  • The stomata is sunken to prevent further water loss. They are covered partially by cuticles and are found within the leaf, not the surface.
  • Another adaptation to reduce the loss of water is seen in pointy thorns. These thorns are modified leaves which reduce the surface area and thereby minimize the loss of water.  
  • Plants which grow in normal regions have brown stems. Usually, only the leaves are green. In desert plants, even the stems are green with chlorophyll to make more food for the plant.
  • The plant cell vacuole is advanced. It has adapted to store great amounts of water.

With such adaptations, plants find a way to live in the harsh climate of deserts.

How do desert plants adapt themselves – class 7 zone

To survive in the hot and arid desert, plants need to implement both physiological and behavioral adaptations.

Depending on which strategy they adopt, the desert plants can be categorized into two types – xerophytes and phreatophytes.  

Xerophytes adapt to the desert climate by changing their physical structure. They specialize in storing water. Think of the cactus plant. It has thorns in place of leaves and a chunky body instead of stem.

Phreatophytes on the other hand have exceptionally long roots that can reach the underground water table for moisture. They excel in finding and collecting water.

Desert plants that have adopted behavioral changes fall into two categories – perennials and annuals. Perennials live for many years while annuals perish within a single year.

A special feature of the desert perennials is that they undergo hibernation during extremely hot and dry months. As soon as water becomes available, these plants come back to life. 

How do animals adapt to the desert?

Survival of desert animals
Animals also become specialized for desert living, like the camel, for example.

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If you think it’s hard for plants to survive in the desert, animals have it even harder. Deserts are scarcely populated. That means there are fewer plants and animals to be found for food.

But desert animals have evolved to survive in the hot and dry desert climate. Some famous desert animals include camel and meerkat.

Here are some adaptations that camels and meerkats use to live in the dessert:

  • Hot dry deserts have a constant wind blowing. This wind scatters sand everywhere. To ensure that camels do not breathe in the sand, they have developed special nostrils which can close.
  • In addition to this, camels also have long eyelashes which can shut to prevent the sand from getting into their eyes.
  • The humps on the back of camel stores large amounts of fat. When the food in the desert is short, camels survive on this stored fat.
  • The tiny adorable meerkats can fall prey to predators easily. To protect themselves, these animals have coats that resemble the color of sand. This way they can camouflage themselves against threats.
  • The harsh sunlight can compromise the vision. To tackle this problem, meerkats have developed rings around their eyes that work like eyeshades.

How do desert plants survive without water

Desert plants survive without water
Desert plants learn how to store and keep what little water comes there way in arid landscapes

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First of all, no plant on earth can survive without water. Deserts have very less water, but desert plants still need it to live.

The correct question then is: How do the desert plants find and retain water?

Different desert plants have developed unique survival adaptations. Here are some examples:

  • The cactus plant has a bunch of physical characteristics that helps it survive in the desert. It has spikes for leaves, a fleshy stem, waxy thick skin and widespread, shallow roots.
  • The spikes, stem and wax ensure the cactus retains as much water as possible. Since it has shallow roots, cactus has become a master of conserving water.
  • The tumbleweed plant perishes during the hot dry season. It turns into a ball of dried stems and leaves.
  • The wind carries this ball to different places. During its journey, the shriveled tumbleweed scatters its seeds. During rainfall, these seeds begin to germinate, giving rise to new tumbleweed plants.

What are 3 adaptations of desert plants?

Here are the 3 most impressive adaptations of desert plants:

  • Desert plants have smaller and fewer stomata than the ones found in normal plants. Stomata are tiny holes found on the surface of leaves which help in transpiration.
  • Desert plants have a thick waxy coating over their leaves and stems. This coat acts as a protective layer that reduces the loss of water. Additionally, the coat also keeps the plant cool in the hot climate.
  • Desert plants have modified leaves which are much smaller than those of regular plants. In some cases, the leaves turn into spikes or thorns. This adaptation further minimizes the loss of water.

How do desert plants survive in hot and dry conditions?

Hot and dry conditions are not conducive to plants. After all, plants need water to photosynthesize and produce food.

But the plants found in deserts develop unique adaptations to cope with the lack of water.

Some adaptations are common, like – smaller and fewer stomata, fleshy stems and smaller leaves. Other adaptations vary from species to species.

For instance, some plants have deep roots that help them collect water from the ground. But others have shallow roots to quickly collect any available water on the surface.

The most common 5 desert plants and their adaptations

Here are the most common plants found in deserts:

  • Cactus – This plant has a fleshy stem, spikes for leaves and a thick coat of wax that minimize the loss of water.
  • Tumbleweed – This plant dies when it is dry. But it scatters its seeds all over the desert. When it rains, the seeds come to life giving rise to new tumbleweeds.
  • Wildflowers – This plant has both deep-seated and shallow roots. It can collect water from the ground as well as the surface with equal efficiency.
  • The Joshua Tree – This tree has a large root system that takes the water out from the ground.
  • Curve Leaf Yucca – This plant has long pointy leaves which reduces water loss.

How do plants adapt to their environment to meet their survival needs?

To survive in hot and arid deserts, plants develop special features.

For example, the cactus plant has thick succulent stems which store ample amounts of water. On the other hand, some plants have deep roots which can even reach the water table.

FAQ relating to desert plants adapting themselves to the conditions in the desert

How do desert plants and animals adapt themselves to the condition in the desert?

Desert flora and fauna develop special features and physical traits to survive in the desert.

How do plants in deserts adapt themselves to reduce the rate of transpiration?

Desert plants have fewer and smaller stomata which reduce the rate of transpiration.

What type of adaptation do desert plants need and why?

Desert plants need an efficient root system and water loss prevention adaptations to conserve water.

How do plants adapt to dry conditions?

Desert plants develop special features to survive in dry deserts.

Key Takeaways

  • Desert plants have fewer and smaller stomata in their leaves to reduce perspiration.
  • The leaves of desert plants turn into spikes or smaller versions to minimize water loss.
  • Desert plants have big stems which store water.
  • A thick layer of wax coats the body of desert plants which helps in the regulation of body temperature.
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