How Do Plants Adapt to Desert Conditions?

Desert plants strengthen and maximize their chances of survival in arid environments through behavioral and physical adaptation mechanisms. Much like desert animals, desert plants such as cactus, agave and owl's clover practice different but effective adaptive strategies, including drought tolerance, succulence and drought avoidance. These techniques enable indigenous organisms to survive and thrive in an arid desert, though these same mechanisms also prevent them from adapting in a different environment.

Desert plants are remarkably different than plants from rainforests or other regions. They have thick, thorny bodies and tiny leaves that, unlike other plants, are rarely bright green in color. Phreatophytes, for example, are drought tolerant plants with very long roots that enable them to obtain water from near the water table. A succulent plant, cacti store water in their fleshy leaves, which allows them to absorb large amounts of water in a short period of time. Some desert plants remain dormant during dry or wet times of year. Desert sunflowers are annual wildflowers that cease to exist during unfavorable conditions. They complete their reproductive cycle during the wet season and then die after spending all their energy to produce seeds.

Many plants may not thrive or even survive in an arid or cold desert environment, but animals and plants that have spent all their lives in this type of habitat are able to live and flourish in deserts, even during the most extreme weather.