Plants also adapt

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All living organisms have special features in them that enable them to survive in their habitats. As you know by now, habitats are the places where organisms live. We are aware that human beings, lions, deer, birds, frogs vary in their makeup and physical structures that help each of us to survive in different habitats under various circumstances. For e.g. a person living near the equator has more melanin pigment in their skin that protects them from the harsh radiations of the sun. Birds have light bodies and wings to fly. Deer have special eyes extending to the sides to spot predators, and so on and so forth. Similarly, over the years, plants have also learned to adapt and they have developed special features to survive underwater, in deserts, in hills, on grasslands, and other habitats.  

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Adaptation can be broadly classified as –

a) STRUCTURAL –

The physical adaptations of plants that enable them to survive in a habitat are known as structural adaptations. For e.g. thick barks to protect them from cold, colorful flowers to attract birds, bees, insects, winged or light seeds for dispersal through the wind, presence of spines, thorns, and toxins to protect them from predators, etc.

           Bees are attracted to colors                                           

       Seeds that can fly easily

b) BEHAVIORAL –

Plant behaviors that give them the advantage to survive under specific conditions are known as behavioral adaptation. For e.g. plants leaning towards the sun, roots growing into the soil, vines climbing up to catch the sunlight, plants relying on insects to get nutrients in places where the soil lacks them (Venus flytrap), plants shedding seeds for reproduction, etc.

 

Plants also have various adaptations depending on their habitats. Let us learn briefly about some habitats and how plants have adapted to them.

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GRASSLANDS (PRAIRIES) –

Temperate grasslands are prone to fires. During fires, although the grasses and shrubs above perish, the roots survive and the plants sprout again. These roots extend deep into the soil that allow them to absorb as much water as possible. Prairie trees usually have thick barks to survive fire. The leaves are thinner to minimize water loss by transpiration. Extensive roots systems prevent grazing animals from uprooting them completely.

DESERTS –

Deserts receive a lot of sunlight and very less precipitation. Thus, the plants there are adapted to survive with minimal water. Plants like cacti have leaves that are reduced to the size of spines to minimize its surface area for evaporation or loss of water from them. They also store water in their large fleshy stems, which also have a waxy layer to minimize water loss by evaporation. They have deep roots to tap ground water. In other plants, spiky leaves protect them from animals trying to use the stored water.

AQUATIC PLANTS –

Aquatic plants like water lily have adapted in such a way that their leaf canopy spreads laterally on water and the leaves float on the surface. Their roots are anchored at the bottom. Submerged plants like hornwort have tiny roots that only anchor the plant and the nutrients are obtained through other parts, unlike terrestrial plants where every nutrient is absorbed by the roots. Some others have hollow stems and allow them to float. Thin ribbon-like leaves are common in submerged plants that allow them to bend as the water flows without getting uprooted.

CONIFEROUS FORESTS –

These are terrestrial habitats that are found in areas with warm summers and cold winters. The trees are cone-shaped with flexible branches that help them to cope with heavy snowfall. They have thick barks and needle-like leaves that don’t hold the snow, and thus protect them from harsh cold. A waxy coating on the leaves prevent excessive evaporation (transpiration) in summers.

Coniferous forest in deep snow

RAINFORESTS –

The tropical rainforests are hot and it rains a lot there. There is fierce competition as the plants compete for sunlight. They are tall and climb or grow on each other to get their sunlight which is essential for photosynthesis, a process by which plants make their food. The drip tip on leaves and a waxy coat prevent water from accumulating on them. Prop and stilt roots hold plants in the shallow soil and allow them to survive with nutrients on the topsoil. Colorful flowers attract animal pollinators as other means like winds are less in these thick forests.

Plants, like animals, are living organisms that are capable of surviving under various conditions. You will be surprised to know that some plants can also go into dormancy and return to normal life when conditions are favorable. Some seeds actually require fire to sprout as they have a coating of resin around their fruits that melts only with heat! Some trees grow like a tall crown without lower branches to survive wild fires. Such is the diversity of plant life!

Check Point

  1. Adaptations in plants are based on two criteria- _______ and structural.
  2. The leaves in coniferous forest are generally ________ so that snow does not accumulate on them.
  3. The trees in tropical rainforest are tall as they are fighting for ________.
  4. The leaves of some _______ plants are broad for them to float on water.
  5. In some desert plants like cacti, the stems are _______ and store _______.
  6. The thorns in a cactus plant are actually its _______.

Answer Key

  1. Behavioral
  2. needle-like
  3. Sunlight
  4. Aquatic
  5. Fleshy, water
  6. Leaves

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