Plants and Adaptations
Plants have adaptations that help them to survive, live and grow in specific environments. These special adaptations allow them to make the most of the surrounding area. They also explain why some plants are found in certain areas but not others.
Plants and Adaptations – What is plant adaptation?
Plant adaptation is when a species develops special features to improve its chances of survival. Adaptations evolve over a long period and are inheritable, meaning they are passed on to offspring.
Types of Adaptation in Plants
There are three kinds of adaptation: structural, behavioral, and physiological.
A structural adaptation is a physical feature that an organism has evolved to survive. For example, this could include the evolution of waxy leaves or different root structures in plants.
Behavioral adaptations are something an organism does to improve its survival. An example is how they grow towards the sun or close their leaves during hot times.
And the final type of adaptation is a physiological adaptation. These happen within an organism to change the chemical processes inside its cells. In plants, an example of this is the production of poisons and toxins that help protect them from predators.
Why do plants adapt?
Plants need to adapt for three main reasons:
- to survive harsh environmental conditions such as the climate;
- to protect themselves against predators;
- and to be more successful when living alongside competitors includes fighting for space, water, or nutrients.
Plants and Their Adaptations to Different Habitats
Plants adapt differently depending on their habitats, predators, and their competitors.
Cacti are an excellent example of how a plant has adapted to desert habitats. Deserts are hot, dry environments, so it takes a special plant to survive in such harsh conditions.
A cactus plant has adapted in many ways to survive.
- It has a thick, waxy skin that stops water from evaporating from the plant too quickly. And the shiny surface of its ‘skin’ also reflects heat, further reducing evaporation.
- They grow deep roots called ‘tap roots.’ These bury themselves deep below the ground to reach underground water stores.
- As well as deep roots, they also have an extensive shallow root system. Although these roots cover a vast surface area, cacti can make the most of any surface water they find.
- Cacti have thick, fleshy stems, which means they can store water inside.
- The problem with storing water in a desert is that cacti appeal to predators looking for water. As a result, cacti have adapted to grow spikes and thorns. These make it more difficult for predators who want to benefit from the stored water.
Tropical Rainforest Habitats
Plant diversity in tropical rainforests is enormous. There’s an incredible number of different plants growing in rainforests around the world.
There’s also a wide range of different adaptations to be seen in tropical plants.
- The trees in rainforests are generally very tall, and their trunks are smooth; this is because trees in the rainforest have adapted to the competition for light and therefore grow tall to beat the other plants growing around them.
- The bark on rainforest trees is smooth, allowing the rain to flow down to the roots easily. Also, if the bark collected water, this could cause problems for the tree. For example, it could cause the tree to become damaged due to the weight of the water, or it could also cause rot to develop.
- Epiphytes are plants that grow on the surface of other plants. So, another benefit of a smooth bark is that it makes it more difficult for other plants to grow. However, some epiphytes can damage their host plants as they take water and nutrients. They can also cause structural damage. Strangler figs are an example of this, as they encase their host with branches that eventually kill it.
- Some epiphytes, such as orchids, have evolved roots that can absorb water and nutrients from the air.
- Many trees in the rainforest grow unique roots. Buttress roots have a large surface area and help support tall trees. With such a large surface area, they also help the tree collect as many nutrients as possible from the nutrient-poor forest floor. Stilt roots grow down from the branches and add stability to the tree.
- Leaves of rainforest plants are very well adapted. For example, many have what’s known as a drip tip allowing water to run off efficiently and stopping the leaves from getting damaged. It also prevents water gathering, which can lead to rot and fungus.
- Many plants on the rainforest floor have adapted to grow large leaves, helping them collect as much sunlight as possible.
- Lianas are a type of vine plant that has adapted to grow up tall rainforest trees. They do this to reach the sunlight in the canopy.
Plant Adaptation Examples
These fearsome plants are an absolute favorite among children. They’re pretty fascinating; we have to admit.
Venus fly traps usually grow in acidic, nutrient-poor soil. For this reason, they’ve adapted a gruesome adaptation.
By capturing and digesting unsuspecting insects that land on their trap leaves, the plant can get enough nutrients to survive.
The traps on a Venus fly trap contain lots of tiny hairs. And when an insect lands on these sensitive hairs, they send a message to close the trap. That’s when digestion begins.
The Dodder Vine
If plants were vampires, this vine would be one. The Dodder vine is a parasitic weed that has adapted a sense of smell. It smells out its prey by detecting the chemical aromas they give off.
Dodders are typically attracted to the scent of tomato plants, and once they find one, it’s game over.
The vine will attach itself to the host plant and suck out the nutrients from within it, causing the poor host plant to wither and die. Scary stuff for a plant.
A Bornean Pitcher Plant
This plant has poor taste when it comes to food. Due to the nutrient-poor soil it grows in; the plant has developed a rather disgusting way to get nutrients.
Its adaptation is a very cozy-looking leaf hood and chamber; this becomes very appealing to sleepy bats, who like to come and roost inside the plant.
While the bat is roosting, the plant benefits by collecting its poo. From this, the plant extracts vital nutrients essential to its survival.