What Plants Grow in the Sahara Desert?

While the Sahara desert is a hot and unforgiving place, more than 2,800 species of trees, shrubs and grasses call it home. Most of these plants exist in the northernmost and southernmost reaches of the desert where rainfall is more frequent than the middle of the desert. Central Sahara is home to only around 500 species, most of them trees and shrubs that put down deep root systems to survive.

Much of the plant life in the Sahara exists as scrub grass, which use their relatively low profiles and extremely long root systems to maximize water absorption while minimizing losses due to evaporation. Acacias and other deep-rooted trees also call the desert home. Date palms and thicker grasses are common near oases and other sources of water, but they are less common in the high, dry desert.

Most plants that thrive under Saharan conditions have specialized adaptations for desert life. In addition to long and widespread root systems, plants usually have thick stems to store as much water as possible for the periods between rainstorms and to reduce evaporation. Other plants have evolved rapid life cycles that allow them to germinate, flower, and reproduce seeds in the brief period immediately after a rainstorm, taking advantage of the only times that water is readily available.