How Do Plants in the Desert Survive?

This article covers the mechanisms and adaptations that desert plants undertake to endure extreme conditions and survive in the desert. Continue to read and find out how these plants thrive in such a hostile environment.

If you've ever been to the desert, you may have been wondering how any plants can survive in such a harsh environment. With little water and extreme temperatures, it seems like nothing could live there. However, there are many types of plants that survive in the desert. Well, the simple answer is that they have adapted to the conditions over time.

In this article, we will explore some of the ways how plants in the desert survive, in such an unforgiving place. However, before we move on to the various ways they've adapted, let's see what kind of plants can survive in the desert.

What Plants Can Survive in the Desert

Apparently, hundreds of species of plants can be found in deserts around the world. These species can be broadly classified into four categories. Understanding the basic nature of these plants will help you comprehend their adaptations and survival strategies better. Here are the four categories:


Succulents are a type of plant that has adapted to store water in their leaves, stems, or roots. This helps them survive long periods of drought. Their leaves are fleshy, and they have extensive root systems. Some examples of succulents are cacti, aloe vera, and echeveria.


Xerophytes are plants that have altered their physical structure to combat the harsh desert conditions. They have small or no leaves, and their stems and leaves are often covered in a waxy substance. It helps prevent water loss and provides some protection from the sun. Examples of xerophytes are Joshua trees, ocotillo, and sagebrush.

Perennial Plants

These are the plants that live for more than two years. They have deep roots that help them store water and survive long periods of drought. These plants become dormant during periods of drought and start growing again when conditions are favorable. Some examples of perennial plants are acacia, Joshua tree, and desert lily.

Annual Plants

As the name suggests, annual plants complete their life cycle within a year. They grow quickly and flower in the short window of time when conditions are favorable. Once they have flowered and produced seeds, they die. Some annual plants are desert poppy, evening primrose, and sand verbena.

How Do Plants Survive in the Desert

It goes without saying that plants must make many adjustments and adaptations to survive in such a harsh environment. They have to be able to store water efficiently, withstand high temperatures, and prevent evaporation. Let's take a closer look at some of these adaptations.

Prevent Water Loss

One of the most important things a plant needs to do in the desert is to prevent water loss. They do this in a few ways. One is by having thick, waxy leaves that limit evaporation. Another is having small leaves that reduce the surface area exposed to the sun and wind. Finally, many desert plants have deep roots that help them access underground water sources.

Measures Against High Temperature

To withstand high temperatures, desert plants have a few different strategies. They grow in an open, sandy area where there is less heat retention. These plants have lighter-colored leaves that reflect more light and heat. Some plants also have special adaptations that help them cool down, such as evaporation pores in their leaves.

Modification in Root System

The roots of desert plants have also undergone some changes to help the plant survive. One is that they have become shallower so that they can access water sources more easily. Another is that they have become more widespread so that the plant can take in water from a larger area. Additionally, many desert plants have long taproots that help them reach underground water sources.

Stomata Adaptation

Stomata are tiny pores in the leaves of plants that help them take in carbon dioxide and release water vapor. In desert plants, these stomata are typically found on the undersides of the leaves to help prevent water loss. Mostly desert plants have fewer and smaller stomata to dial down transpiration.

Mechanisms Against Drought

Drought is simply one of the biggest challenges for plants in the desert. To survive periods of drought, plants have a few different strategies. One is to store water in their leaves, stems, or roots. Another is to become dormant until conditions are more favorable. Lastly, many desert plants use their deep roots to access underground water sources.

Growing Thick Cuticle

This is another adaptation desert plants have to survive in the desert. The cuticle is a thick layer of wax that covers the surface of the leaves and helps to reduce evaporation. This is an important adaptation for desert plants because it helps them conserve water.

Spines for Protection

Many desert plants have spines instead of leaves. This is because leaves are a major source of water loss for plants. By having spines, desert plants can reduce the amount of water they lose. Additionally, spines can help to protect the plant from herbivores.

Threats Desert Plants Face

A Desert is a difficult place to live. Although desert plants have adapted to survive in the desert, it doesn't mean that their problems are over. There are many threats lingering around every corner. Here are some factors that pose a grim risk to their survival.


One of the biggest problems desert plants face is erosion. The wind and sand can quickly strip away the top layer of soil, leaving the plant's roots exposed. This can cause the plant to dry out and die.

Changes in the Climate

Another threat to desert plants is climate change. As the climate continues to warm, many desert regions are becoming drier and hotter. With already a little rainfall, this can cause desert plants to wilt and die.

Loss of Habitat

As human development continues to grow, many desert regions are being turned into farmland or turned into urban areas. This loss of habitat can be devastating for desert plants.


Another problem desert plants face is overgrazing. When animals graze too much on the vegetation, it can leave the plant vulnerable to erosion and loss of nutrients.


This is one of the most common problems desert plants face. The plants can adapt to surviving in less water, but a long period of drought can still be devastating.

Posted by Pavneet Lobana

Pavneet is a home and lifestyle blogger with a passion for creating beautiful and functional spaces. A self-taught chef, she also loves to cook and share her recipes with others. Whether you're looking to create a cozy reading nook or upgrade your kitchen, she has advice that will help you get the most out of your space.