Examples of Plant Adaptations in Different Environments

, Staff Writer
Updated July 20, 2022
desert plant adaptions
    desert plant adaptions
    Thomas Roche / Moment / Getty Images

An adaptation is just a mutation that worked out well for a plant or animal. Plants adapt in many ways to be able to survive or thrive in their surroundings. Discover several plant adaptation examples specific to different environments.

Desert Plant Adaptations

Living in a desert environment poses unique challenges for plant life. Desert plants have to adapt to harsh conditions characterized by extreme temperatures and very little rainfall.

Root Structure

Plants that grow in the desert have adapted the structure of their roots to be able to thrive with very little rainfall. Some plants have adapted to take advantage of any rainfall that occurs while others have adapted to look for water very deep in the ground.

  • shallow root structure - Some desert plants have shallow roots that spread out over a wide area. This allows them to get as much rainwater as possible during the rare occasions that it rains.
  • deep tap roots - Not all desert plants have shallow roots. Some develop extremely long tap roots that go down very deep into the ground. These deep tap roots are an adaptation that allows the plants to reach water deep below the surface.

Leaf Waxing

Nearly all desert plants produce a waxy coating on their leaves or have prickly spines. These features help keep water from evaporating out of the leaves. This is an adaptation to help prevent dehydration in a desert climate.

Night Blooming

Some desert plants bloom only at night, which is an adaptation to the extreme heat of the desert sun and certain animal adaptations.

  • preventing dehydration - Blooming during the daytime in the desert could cause plants to dehydrate very quickly. The adaptation to nighttime blooming helps keep desert plants from losing a lot of water (dehydrating) through their blooms.
  • helping with pollination - Because many desert insects are nocturnal (an example of an animal adaptation), blooming at night helps ensure that desert plants get properly pollinated.

Reproducing Without Seeds

While desert plants can reproduce by seeds, some don’t have to reproduce that way. For example, some cacti will break off pieces of themselves. These pieces can root and form new cacti rather than having to start from seeds. Since seeds require water to sprout, there would not be as many cacti in the desert without this adaptation.

Drought Resistance

Desert plants have roots that can handle drying out without dying. This adaptation is also referred to as desiccation resistance.

Tropical Rainforest Plant Adaptations

The tropical rainforest environment is characterized by high temperatures and an abundance of rainfall, leading to high levels of humidity. Tropical rainforest flora have to adapt to an environment that is always hot and wet.


Leaf Size

Plants in the lowest part of the rainforest are short and grow close to the ground. Since very little light gets to this part of the rainforest, these plants adapted to have very large leaves. The sizable surface area of their leaves allows them to catch as much light as possible, which helps them survive.

Poisonous Parts

Many tropical rainforest plants are poisonous, an adaptation to the presence of many herbivorous animals in the tropical rainforest. If an animal eats part of a plant that is poisonous, the animal will either get sick or die. Either way, the rest of the plant survives.

Brightly Colored Flowers

The floor of the rainforest is dimly lit, so flowers in muted tones would be hard for insects to see. The brightly colored blooms of rainforest plants allow bees and other pollinators to easily see and find them for pollination.

plant adaptions in rain forest
    plant adaptions in rain forest
    Busakorn Pongparnit / Moment / Getty Images

Plant Adaptations to Water

Some plants live directly in the water, while others live in soil that is very close to the water’s edge. Whether a plant is purely aquatic (water dwelling) or if it grows in boggy or muddy conditions, its survival depends on appropriate adaptations.

Resistance to Root Rot

The roots of plants that grow in boggy conditions stay wet or damp all the time. As a result, plants that are able to survive in these conditions, such as ferns, cattails and swamp sunflowers, have adapted a resistance to root rot.

Height Advantage

Some plants that grow in the water are able to thrive because of their height. Cattails are an example of a tall wetland plant that thrives as a result of how high it stands above the water’s surface. Typically ranging from three to 10 feet in height, these tall plants thrive in muddy water. They have no problem taking in the sunlight they need for photosynthesis because of how tall they are. Their leaves extend well above the surface of the water.


Floating on Water

Some aquatic plants, such as water lilies, float on the surface of the water. Water lilies can thrive in muddy water because of this adaptation. Since their leaves float, they can easily take in light. The light does not have to go through muddy water in order to reach the leaves.

water lily plant adaption example
    water lily plant adaption example
    traveler1116 / E+ / Getty Images

Learn More About the Natural World

Plant adaptations are a fascinating science topic. It’s really interesting to get a sense of how plants have adapted to thrive in extreme conditions. Now that you have an idea of some ways plants can adapt to their environment, expand your knowledge of the natural world by exploring examples of natural ecosystems. To learn even more, review biome examples from around the world.