Desert Plants Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Lisa Hanson

Lisa is a Continuous Improvement Coach for her school district and has taught in elementary school for many years. She has a master's degree in curriculum and instruction.

It would seem that because it is so hot and dry in the desert that not many plants would grow, but there are some that can adapt to the harsh weather. You will read about these plants in this lesson.

Plant Adaptations in the Desert

Imagine walking through a desert with no water, hot temperatures, and the sun beating down on your face. How can a plant possibly survive in this weather?

The Mojave Desert is located in the Southwestern part of the United States. It can be found in California, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. It receives only six inches of rain a year and is one of the hottest places in the United States. Plants that live here have to have special ways to survive, which are called adaptations.

Some plants have very deep roots that can reach water underground and store it. There are also plants that are able to store water in their leaves and turn away from the hot sun. There are even seeds that will lie on the ground for years waiting for rain to come. This lesson will teach you more about cacti, trees, and wildflowers that live in the Mojave Desert.


Barrel Cactus

The barrel cactus is one of the largest in North America. It can tower anywhere from 5-11 feet, which is taller than you, and maybe even your parents! When it is young, it is the shape of a spiky, round ball, but as it grows it takes on more of a barrel shape. Don't get too close; this cactus has 3-4 inch sharp spines all over it. It also has yellow and red flowers that bloom on the top of the cactus.

Prickly Pear Cactus

The prickly pear cactus has a 7-foot tall trunk with flat, oval-shaped leaf pads growing from it. These pads are usually 4-6 inches long, and resemble a beaver's tail. The yellow and red flowers, fruit, and spikes all grow on these thick pads.

The prickly pear cactus has spiky pads growing from the trunk.
Prickly Pear Cactus


Joshua Tree

The Joshua tree only grows in the Mojave Desert. It can grow 15-40 feet tall, 1-3 feet across, and can live for 150 years. They have long, spiky leaves that grow upside down to help catch moisture. They grow in groups called groves, and have yellowish-green, bell shaped flowers that don't have a pleasant smell.

The Joshua tree only grows in the Mojave Desert.
Joshua Tree

Elephant Tree

The elephant tree has a short, stubby trunk and branches that look like an elephant's legs. It only grows to be about 10 feet tall and has white, flaky bark. The branches have many small, reddish twigs growing from them. From the twigs grow dull, light green leaves and creamy, white flowers.

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