How Is the Prickly Pear Cactus Adapted to Desert Life?


To survive in harsh dry, hot desert climates, the prickly pear cactus has adapted successful features such as the water-storing capability of its thick, fleshy leaf pads and the sharp spikes on those pads that deter animals from eating it. Thanks to these adaptations and others, prickly pears are extremely efficient at surviving in their native desert habitat.

In addition to the leaf pad adaptations that help the prickly pear survive and thrive in a water-scarce environment, the plant has also developed adaptations that help it take advantage of the daily temperature cycle in the desert where nighttime temperatures are much cooler than when the sun is out in full force. For this reason, prickly pear cactus only opens its stoma to process carbon at night, which allows it to avoid releasing precious water through these open stoma during hot daylight hours.

Other parts of the plant also show how well the prickly plant has adapted to its environment. The plant is capable of asexual, or vegetative, reproduction. This method of reproduction takes far less energy than sexual, seed-based, reproduction, allowing the plant to preserve precious resources. However, sexual reproduction is also an option for these plants, which have adapted a well-rounded reproductive system for maximum species survival.