Science Snapshot: Desert Plants

The subtle beauty of desert plants is often masked by their rugged features. Sharp spikes, furry leaves, and woody branches are not going to win any plant beauty pageants any time soon. But these features are amazing adaptations to have if you live in the harsh desert 24/7. Desert plants use fur and spikes as a water-gathering tool. Spikes on desert plants serve a dual purpose adaptation as they also fend off animals from eating them. The hairs on moss found in the desert are said to be one of the most efficient water collection mechanisms in the world. When rain comes, these hairs physically reach out to grab the water as it falls from the sky and secures it deep inside the base of the plant. Globemallow, the flowering plant shown in the title, has ruffle-shaped (yes, like the potato chip) leaves so that less of the plant is exposed to direct sun light at any given time of the day. More direct sunlight on a plant means more potential water loss from evaporation. Some desert plants also use a very shallow, wide-spread, root system so that when it rains, their roots cover more ground and can absorb more water deposited in the soil.


close up photo of three green cactus plants
Photo by jami jari on

**Pictured above: 1. globemallow plants exhibiting their beautiful orange flowers, furry crinkled leaves, and woody stems. 2. Desert moss with its unique hair structures used for water collection. 3. A cactus plant with its spikes used for water collection and defense. I own the images above, except for the cactus image.

Before judging a book by its cover, or in this case a desert plant by its rugged features, stop to admire its amazing ability to survive in the harshest of environments. Plus, to me, desert plants really are beautiful if you look close enough.


THANK YOU for reading! Please comment below and let me know how I am doing to help you see your world through the intriguing lens of science.

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