How Do Plants Survive in the Desert?

plants-survive-desert Credit: Christian Haugen/CC-BY 2.0

Desert plants have special adaptations that allow them to survive the harsh environment in which they live. DesertUSA describes these adaptations as both "physical and behavioral mechanisms."

According the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, "Desert plants tend to look very different from plants native to other regions. They are often swollen, spiny, and have tiny leaves that are rarely bright green." This different appearance represents the adaptations the plants have made to survive in the arid desert conditions.

Succulents are plants that have adaptations to store water in their leaves, stems and roots. They include all cacti as well as some non-cactus plants found in the desert, including aloe, agave and elephant trees.

Opening the stoma of the leaf of a plant allows it to take in the carbon dioxide needed for photosynthesis but also makes the plant susceptible to losing water. Scientists classify many desert dwelling plants as CAM plants. They open their stoma at night to take in carbon dioxide and use it to form malic acid in the morning, giving them a bitter taste early in the day. As the plant undergoes photosynthesis during the day, it breaks down the malic acid to release the carbon dioxide it requires to form glucose, while the stoma remains closed.