Plant adaptations

Plants with adaptations which allow them to live in hot and dry conditions are called xerophytic. The following adaptations allow plants to survive in the hot desert environment:

  • Small leaves - these ensure that less water is lost from the plant by transpiration because the leaf has a smaller surface area.
  • Tap roots - these are long roots (7-10 metres long) that reach deep under the ground to access water supplies. The tap roots are much longer and bigger than the plant which is visible at the surface.
  • Spines - some plants have spines instead of leaves, eg cactuses. Spines lose less water than leaves so are very efficient in a hot climate. Spines also prevent animals from eating the plant.
  • Waxy skin - some leaves have a thick, waxy skin on their surface. This reduces water loss by transpiration.
  • Water storage - some plants, known as succulents, store water in their stems, leaves, roots or even fruits. Plants which store water in their leaves and stems also have a thick waxy skin so that they lose less water by transpiration.
Plants adapted for hot deserts may have spines, and sore water in stems. They also have thick waxy skin, and have tap roots.
Cactus spines


Cactuses have spines to reduce water loss.