What Is an Adaptation for Plants?


Plants adapt to their environments . . . or they cease to exist. Adaptation is an evolutionary process that changes the anatomy or physiology of a plant, resulting in increased ability of a population to live in a particular environment.

Ecological Context

Think about your local hiking trail. What plants live there? Are they the same plants that you would see at the top of a mountain, or in a salt marsh? Environmental attributes like temperature and rainfall determine the plants that thrive in a particular locale.

Historical and Scientific Context

Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands 150 years ago. He observed differences between island populations of the same species. Environmental conditions on each island produced changes in plant populations that promoted survival. Adaptation is one component of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.

Plant Adaptations in Temperate Grasslands

In the American Midwest, temperate grasslands dominate the landscape. The flat landscape is exposed and the climate is harsh. Grass plants adapt to this environment by allocating a huge quantity of resources to their root systems. Their stems are flexible and their leaves are narrow to avoid damage in windy conditions.

Plant Adaptation in Deserts

In the desert, plants conserve and store water since it is so scarce. Many desert plants are hairy to minimize water loss. Desert plants also perform photosynthesis at night to avoid water loss.

Science at Home

Set up a home garden experiment: Plant the same vegetable in two locales. Record differences in environments and growth differences. This exercise shows how environment influences survival, the basis for plant adaptation.


  • Ecology Information Center
  • Biology of Plants: Plant Adaptations
  • Plants in the Desert
Keywords: plants, environment, plant adaptations
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