Plants in Desert ~ Kwentology

Image of Desert by Damon TigheLargest cactus, like North American deserts support the giant cactus or saguaro, which may live to be 200 years old.

What is a Desert?

Desert make up about a third of land surface of the world. They are found wherever there is not enough water available to support much plant growth. Examples of deserts are the Sahara, Namib, and Kalahari deserts in Africa; the Atacama in Chil; and the Sonora in North America. Central Asia and Australia also have large deserts—although it is frozen, it is also very dry.

Antarctica is sometimes called the coldest desert, and is in fact extremely dry, because all its water is locked up as ice. The deserts of Central Asia—in Mongolia and western China—are chilled in winter by cold air from the Arctic. Even in summer, when the days are hot, the temperature can drop at night to below freezing.

Most areas of the Sahara have about 3 inches (76 mm) of rainfall in a year, making this one of the driest deserts. Parts of the Atacama Desert in Chile are also very dry. Some years may pass there between rainfalls.

Parts of the Sahara in Africa and Mojave Desert in North America experience extremely high temperatures. The average summer temperature may be over 104°F (40°C). In Death Valley in the Mojave Desert, USA, temperatures of 134°F (57°C) have been recorded.

What is an Oasis?

An oasis is a place in the desert where water is in plentiful supply, such as at a pool permanently fed by a spring. Many plants can grow at an oasis, even in the heat of the desert. Date palms are commonly planted at oases, both for shade and to provide fruit.

Image of Echinocereus Cacti with Flower by Geko78Cacti are protected by sharp spines. Many kinds also produce large, colorful flowers.

"Resurrection" Plants Survive the Drought

When conditions get very dry, the leaves of these plants shrivel up and turn brown. This cuts down the loss of water. When it rains, they turn green again.

What Lives in the Largest Cactus?

The largest of all cacti is the giant cactus or saguaro, of the southwestern USA and Mexico. A 125 year old saguaro can measure up to 16 feet (15 m) tall weigh as much as 6 tons.

Cacti are home to a variety of wildlife. Their flowers are visited by butterflies and moths, also by hummingbirds. Holes in cactus stems provide nest sites for desert rodents, and also for birds like tiny elf owl.

Cacti have generally leafless, swollen stems that store water. Since they lack of leaves they do not lose much water through transpiration. Most cacti are spicy, which probably protects them from being eaten by hungry (and thirsty) desert animals.

Image of Desert FlowersFlowering Desert Scene. Some deserts become a sheet of flowers after a rainfall.

Strangest Desert Plants

Many desert flowers live for only a short time, but survive as seeds in the desert soil. When next rain fall, they trigger the seeds to germinate.


Some desert plants have very long roots that can tap into deep underground water sources. Mesquite roots often grow as deep as 70 feet (20 m) in search of water.


Welwitschia is probably the strangest desert plant of all. It lives for centuries, growing very slowly and producing just two twisted leathery leaves. It lives in the coastal deserts of southwest Africa, and gets its water mainly from sea fog.

Joshua Tree

The Joshua tree grows in the Mojave Desert, California. It grows only about 4 inches (10 cm) a year, and its leaves can last for 20 years. The fiber inside the leaves can be used to make paper.

Living Stones

Living stones are special desert plants from southern Africa. They have swollen leaves and grow low down among the sand and gravel of the desert surface, looking very much like small pebbles or rocks. It is only when they flower that they reveal their true nature.

Desert Keeps on Expanding

The Sahara is growing larger each year partly because the climate is getting gradually warmer, but mainly because the plant life on the edges of the desert has been destroyed by grazing animals.
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