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Watch this video lesson and you will see how many unique plants we have in the world.

Learn how aquatic plants survive underwater and how desert plants survive in the desert.

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Plant Adaptations

In this lesson, we will talk about plant adaptations. These are changes that help a plant species survive in its environment. We will see how plants survive underwater, in the desert, and where the soil lacks nutrients. You might already be familiar with some of these specialized plants. For example, the seaweed is a plant adapted for its underwater environment. Cacti are adapted for the desert environment.

And you might be familiar with the Venus fly trap plant that is adapted for living in soil that doesn’t provide enough nutrients. Some plants even have their own self-defense system in place to ward off insects and other critters. The rose bush, for example, has thorns to keep away predators.Let’s take a closer look at these specialized plants.

Aquatic Plants


First, the seaweed. This is an aquatic plant.

It is adapted for underwater life. This plant has its own air bubble in each leaf that provides the necessary space for the exchange of oxygen from the water to the plant. It also helps keep the seaweed upright. The leaves of underwater aquatic plants are also softer then above ground plants. This softness allows the plant to move easily with the waves without breaking.

Desert Plants

Barrel cactus
barrel cactus

Now, let’s look at our cacti.

These are plants adapted for the desert. There are many varieties of cacti. You will see that all of them have very thin leaves. In fact, they aren’t called needles anymore; they are called thorns. Look at this barrel cactus and you will see its many leaves in the form of thorns all over its stem.

The stem is very thick, and this is where the plant stores its water. Because water is scarce in the desert, the plant soaks up and stores whatever water it can when it rains and then uses its water reserve when there is no water.

Carnivorous Plants

Next, we have the Venus fly trap. This plant is adapted for life in soil with very little nutrients. This plant gets its nutrients from eating insects.

Yes, this is a plant that actually eats! It is a type of carnivorous plant that has leaves that act as a mouth. The Venus fly trap’s leaves look like a trap. It has little trigger hairs that, when the fly walks across it, make the leaf close, trapping the fly.

The plant then secretes digestive juice that digests the fly for the plant.

Venus fly trap
venus fly trap


Plants have other adaptations that protect them from being eaten by insects or other animals. For example, the rose bush has sharp thorns.

Other plants produce a chemical that repels. Think of the itchy skin rash that poison ivy causes. That rash is the result of the plant’s protective chemicals. The plant and herb basil produces a fragrance that repels flies.

Lesson Summary

Let’s review what we’ve learned. Plant adaptations are changes that help a plant species survive in its environment. Aquatic plants that live underwater have leaves with large air pockets inside that allow the plant to absorb oxygen from the water.

The leaves of aquatic plants are also very soft to allow the plant to move with the waves. Desert plants have very thin leaves. In cacti, the leaves are the thorns. Desert plants’ stems are very thick, allowing the plant to store water for use when there is no water in its environment.

Carnivorous plants live in places where there are no nutrients in the soil. To feed themselves, they have leaves that are like mouths. Some have trap mouths that close and trap any insect that happens to walk through it. Different plants also have different adaptations to repel insects and other animals. Poison ivy produces an oil that causes a skin rash on contact.

Learning Outcomes

Once you’ve gone through the lesson, you should have the ability to:

  • Describe the purpose of plant adaptations
  • Compare the adaptations of aquatic, desert and carnivorous plants
  • Explain how adaptations can be used in self-defense

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