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DROUGHT RESISTANT PLANTS


Saguaro Cactus

We see plants every day. Whether in a home garden, on sidewalks, or the local mountain areas, they’re everywhere, and are an essential element to our earth’s eco-system. Different plants live in different areas of the world, largely dependent on factors such as exposure to the sun, temperature, moisture and soil composition. Some areas are colder, have more moisture in the air, or higher annual rain fall, while perhaps other areas can be more dry or reach hotter temperatures, making climate an important factor when determining a plant’s survival. In areas where there is less rain fall, and hotter weather, plants have to be more drought resistant. Drought resistant plants have different features that help them endure the aforementioned weather conditions.



California Poppies

Plants work together. They are a community. Most plants you see are native to the area or have adapted over time to the region. In dry areas, where water is harder to come by, plants share their resources and cycle the moisture among themselves. This process can become difficult when weeds grow within the community because they don’t share.

Drought resistant plants that have adapted to living in dry areas, are generally called xerophytes. One type of xerophytes are succulents. The definition of a succulent depends on whether or not you are including the roots into the equation. Succulents are generally described as plants that have thick, or fatty leaves and stems that help them to retain water. Cacti are the most common and popular succulent. If the roots of the plants are brought into the definition, then it would include geophytes. Geophytes are plants that have underground storage structures in their roots that help retain water. They sit on bulbs, corms and tubers that protect their water supply from herbivores.

In areas that don’t get a lot of rain, or where plants have to go long periods without rain, drought resistant plants still manage to get water. In coastal areas, these drought resistant plants get their moisture from the morning fog, and in mountain areas, they get moisture from clouds. Plants that thrive in these weather conditions have special characteristics that help them survive.



Take notice of the small or divided leaves of the Silver Lupin, or the waxy coating on the Sugar Sumac. Those features along with plants with hairy leaves help the plants to retain or reduce water loss during transpiration. Transpiration is when water evaporates from the plants leaves and gets released back into the atmosphere. Because water can be scarce in the desert and hotter areas, some plants that retain large amounts of water need to protect themselves from animals. Sometimes the plant leaves are prickly and have thorns like many cactus and the Coastal Prickly Pear seen above. Other ways plants might protect themselves is by growing in high, difficult to reach areas or staying camouflaged. Some might even be poisonous like poison oak, eucalyptus and milkweed.



Milkweed

Plants also have a way of protecting themselves from the hot sun. Unlike humans and animals, who can easily sit under the shade on a hot day, plants are stuck where they are. Too much sunlight can damage plant cells. When temperatures get too high, plant cells release unstable and highly reactive compounds. When this compound builds up to a certain point inside the cell, the plant triggers alarm signals that release heat-shock proteins that help neutralize the compound.

Drought resistant plants are great for home gardens. We all want a beautiful garden, but perhaps don’t have the time to water plants as frequently as some plants may require. Drought resistant plants require less maintenance, reduce your water bills, and also help support water conservancy. Drought resistant plants also come in a stunning variety of species and colors that can really brighten up your home. As you can see, plants are intriguing organisms, whose complexity is reflected in their beauty—beauty that has also adapted in many ways to extreme climate and geography conditions.

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The Havasi Wilderness Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to heightening awareness and appreciation of the natural environment.

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