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Updated by Jillian Lucero on Oct 25, 2018
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Top 10 Wildest Plant Adaptations

A list of some extraordinary plant traits. The plant's characteristics are shaped by their surrounding environment.

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Carnivorous Plants

Carnivorous Plants

To put it in more human terms, carnivorous plants eat things like insects, spiders, crustaceans and other small soil and water-living invertebrates and protozoans, lizards, mice, rats, and other small vertebrates. Carnivorous plants pull off this trick using specialized leaves that act as traps. Many traps lure prey with bright colors, extra-floral nectaries, guide hairs, and/or leaf extensions. Once caught and killed, the prey is digested by the plant and/or partner organisms. The plant then absorbs the nutrients made available from the corpse. Most carnivorous plants will grow without consuming prey but they grow much faster and reproduce much better with nutrients derived from their prey.

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Plant Adaptations in Water

Plant Adaptations in Water

Some plants have air spaces in their stems to help hold the plant up in the water. The water lilies are green on the upper side of their leaf and on the bottom, the leafs are a redish color. The lilie closest to the bottom of the picture is turned upside down. The top is green because of an adaptation to the water- reduce chlorophyll to only where light will hit the plant. Aquatic plants also had to adapt to be flexible enough to withstand the pressures of moving water.

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Indian Pipe Plant

Indian Pipe Plant

This plant is a heterotroph (it does not make its own food,) lacks chlorophyll, and stays in the shade of trees. The plant instead gets its nutrients through a mutually beneficial relationship with a fungus in the soil where it grows. As it turns out, this is only one of about 3,000 non-photosynthetic plants in the world. Who would have thought? So, on your next walk through the woodlot, watch for this strange adaptation of nature and just enjoy it!

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Oily Coating

Oily Coating

Just like humans have pores, plants have stomata- through which moisture evaporates or transpires. Some desert plants have a waxy coating on their leaves to reduce water loss. It blocks the holes and retains moisture in the extreme heat! This busy Beavertail cactus has stored considerable water and is putting much of it into blossoms ensuring survival. When times are dry, the now plump pads will shrivel and wither.

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LARGE EVERGREEN TREES

LARGE EVERGREEN TREES

The temperate rain forest features minimal seasonal fluctuation of temperature: the winters are mild and the summers cool. The temperate rain forest receives a lot of precipitation, about 80 to 152 inches per year. Condensation from coastal fogs also add to the dampness. Trees grow very tall due to the amount of precipitation. The soil is poor in nutrients but seedlings grow on "nurse logs" to take advantage of the nutrients from the decomposing fallen logs. Large evergreen trees, some reaching 300 feet in height, are the dominant plant species. Neophytes such as mosses and ferns grow atop other plants to reach light.

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Fire-activated Seed

Fire-activated Seed

Perhaps the most amazing fire adaptation is that some species actually require fire for their seeds to sprout. Some plants, such as the Lodgepole pine, Eucalyptus, and Banksia, have serotinous cones or fruits that are completely sealed with resin. These cones/fruits can only open to release their seeds after the heat of a fire has physically melted the resin. Other species, including a number of shrubs and annual plants, require the chemical signals from smoke and charred plant matter to break seed dormancy. Some of these plants will only sprout in the presence of such chemicals and can remain buried in the soil seed bank for decades until a wildfire awakens them.

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Thermal Insulation

Thermal Insulation

Some plants are able to survive wildfires due to a clever layer of thermal insulation provided by their bark, dead leaves, or moist tissues. Certain trees, including larches and giant sequoias, have incredibly thick, fire retardant bark and can be directly burned without sustaining damage to their vital tissues (though they will eventually succumb to intense fires). Other plants, such as the Australian grass tree and South African aloes (pictured) retain dense, dead leaves around their stems to serve as insulation against the heat of a wildfire. Additionally, some plants have moist tissues that provide both thermal insulation and protect against dehydration during a fire. This strategy is common in a number of Protea species which have corky tissues to protect their buds from desiccation.

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Adaptations for Reproduction

Adaptations for Reproduction
  1. Brightly colored flowers with nectar attract pollinators such as birds, bees, and insects.
  2. Sweet fruit attracts animals that spread seeds far away.
  3. Some seeds are shaped to catch the wind!
  4. Plants drop seeds to grow new offspring
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Tundra Plants

Tundra Plants

The tundra is cold year-round—it has short cool summers and long, severe winters. The tundra has a permanently frozen sublayer of soil called permafrost. Drainage is poor due to the permafrost and because of the cold, evaporation is slow. The tundra receives little precipitation, about 4 to 10 inches per year, and what it does receive is usually in the form of snow or ice. It has long days during the growing season, sometimes with 24 hours of daylight, and long nights during the winter. There is little diversity of species. Plant life is dominated by mosses, grasses, and sedges. These plants accumulate heat by numerous adaptations: staying low to the ground, living in packs, a covering of hair, and dark color to attract solar energy.

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Tropical Rain Forest

Tropical Rain Forest

The tropical rainforest is hot and it rains a lot, about 80 to 180 inches per year. This abundance of water can cause problems such as promoting the growth of bacteria and fungi which could be harmful to plants. Drip tips and waxy surfaces allow water to run off. Heavy rainfall also increases the risk of flooding, soil erosion, and rapid leaching of nutrients from the soil. Plants grow rapidly and quickly use up any organic material left from decomposing plants and animals. This results is a soil that is poor but plants have shallow roots to help capture nutrients from the top level of soil. The tropical rainforest is very thick, and not much sunlight is able to penetrate to the forest floor. However, the plants at the top of the rainforest in the canopy, some grow and climb on other plants, must be able to survive 12 hours of intense sunlight every day of the year. There is a great amount of diversity in plant species in the tropical rainforest.