Introduction to Plant Adaptations

› Plant Adaptations

Plant adaptations are fascinating - when young kids realize that many plants eat meat, smell like poop and have needs much like our own, they instantly turn into little botanists that want to know more!

smelly plant adaptations in the rainforestRafflesia - 24 pounds of rotting beauty.

For example, here is the lovely rafflesia, one of the largest and smelliest plants in the world.

This 24 pound beauty wafts the scent of rotting carcasses while in bloom - all in hopes of attracting insects to pollinate it.

About The Adaptations of Plants

While animals are able to protect themselves by attacking predators or finding shelter, plants have to stay put and protect themselves they best way they can.

Animals search for food, often traveling for many miles to find enough sustenance. Most plants (but not all!) have to make their own food through the process of photosynthesis. They must make do with whatever water, sunlight, and nutrients are available to them.

This means that plants must adapt to whatever conditions are present in their environment. 

  • Desert plants have adapted to survive on very little water.
  • Plants on a rainforest floor are able to survive with very little light, since the tall treetops of the forest canopy block much of the sunlight.
  • Bog plants, such as the Venus fly trap, are carnivorous and get much of their nutrients from insects because the soil in which they live lacks sufficient nutrients for survival.

List of Unusual Plant adaptaions

  1. Welwitschia Mirabilis (an alien looking plant from Nigeria) can live for over 1000 years and can thrive without water for nearly 5 years.
  2. The Whistle Thorn Acacia gives shelter to ants who then attack animals and insects that try to damage it. 
  3. Arctic Willow plants in the tundra grow close to the ground to protect them from the cold as well as having shallow root systems that help it survive the permafrost.
  4. The Mojave yucca has a thick, waxy coating that keeps water from escaping.  It's kind of like when you smear petroleum jelly on your skin, which blocks your pores from letting sweat escape.
  5. Algae uses only photosynthesis for its nutrition and is responsible for almost half of the oxygen production on the planet.
  6. Strangler figs are known as "killer trees."  It uses a host tree and eventually kills it by strangling off the light and nutrients to it.
  7. The Lodgepole Pine will only release its seeds when there is a fire to melt the resin around them.
  8. The Voodoo Lily stinks of rotten meat to attract its favorite pollinator: flies.
  9. The Candelabra tree stores toxic sap in its trunk to burn any animals that may try to strip the bark from it.
  10. Stinging nettles look ugly on purpose.  The less attractive they are, the less likely the plant is to be damaged by predators.  Stinging nettles also rely on the wind for pollination so they don't need to attracts birds and insects for pollination.

Plant Adaptations Video

This video is also available as a powerpoint below if that is your preference.

Finally head over to the Missouri Botanical Garden's website page about the biology of plants.  There are lots of great downloads, games and a fun adaptation song.

Your more able students will likely want to research further, and the International Carnivorous Plant Society has enough information and pictures to keep any researcher happy for a long time.

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