Deserts: Plants

Contributor: Samantha Penna. Lesson ID: 11190

Have you ever watched a western on TV? Notice the tall, odd-looking, spiny plants in the desert? Those are cacti, but they're not the only plants in the desert! Discover and write about pretty plants!



learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
Primary (K-2), Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Deserts have a very harsh climate.

They receive very little rainfall every year. Even though they get very little rainfall, deserts surprisingly still have some plant life.

In this lesson, you will learn about how plants survive in the harsh desert!



  • Before you begin this lesson, can you name the four types of deserts you learned about in the first Related Lesson found in the right-hand sidebar?


In this lesson, you will learn about the different types of plants that can be found in hot and dry deserts, semi-arid deserts, coastal deserts, and cold deserts.

Don't forget that ALL deserts get less than 20 inches of rain per year!


Hot and dry deserts are exactly as they sound. The temperatures are very hot, and they get very little rainfall.

  • How do plants survive here?

Read on to find out!

The extreme heat in hot and dry deserts affects the types of plants that can live there.

In this type of desert, you will mostly find small plants like shrubs, small cacti, and small, woody trees. Plants that live in this type of desert are able to hold water longer than most plants! This helps them survive the hot weather.

The first slide shows a brittlebush plant, and the second slide shows a prickly pear plant.

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  • What do both of these plants have in common?
  • Did you notice that both of these plants are small and low to the ground?

The smaller the plant, the less water the plant needs to survive.

Semi-arid deserts are a little cooler than hot and dry deserts. They also receive a little more rain.

The plants found in this type of desert are usually spiny and have thick skin. This helps them retain water longer. Other types of plants in semi-arid deserts have glossy leaves that enable them to reflect more of the sun's light.

Some of these plants even have hairs or spikes to protect themselves! This helps them stay safe from predators and the desert heat.

Bursage, white thorn, brittlebush, cat claw, triangle-leaf bursage, and jujube are just some of the many plants that can be found in a semi-arid desert.

The first slide shows a cat claw plant, and the second slide shows a jujube plant.

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Coastal deserts are cooler than hot and dry, and semiarid deserts. Many different types of plants can be found here.

The plants found in coastal deserts have thick leaves and stems. They have roots that are found close to the surface. Their roots are close to the surface so they can get more water from the rain. All these traits help these plants retain as much water as possible.

Some plants that can be found in coastal deserts are: black bush, littleleaf horsebrush, rice grass, salt bush, black sage, and chrysothamnus.

The first slide shows a rice grass plant, the second slide shows a black sage plant, and the third slide shows a chrysothamnus plant.

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The last type of desert is a cold desert. This desert type is much cooler than all the other desert types. Instead of rainfall, this desert type gets snow! Most of the plants in cold deserts have spiny leaves.

Sego lily, bitterbrush, sage brush, and rabbit brush are all types of plants that can be found in cold deserts.

The first slide shows a sego lily plant, and the second slide shows a bitterbrush plant.

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  • Do desert plants have anything in common?

Think about the size of the plants, colors, and leaves on the plants.

  • Did you notice that most of the flowers on the plants were yellow?
  • Did you notice most of the plants were small and low to the ground?


Move on to the Got It? section to learn more about the plants that are found in the desert!

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