Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park
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Stop 2
Desert Plant Adaptations

crucifixion thorn (Koeberlinia spinosa)
Crucifixion thorn has green stems where photosynthesis takes place.

We have four dominant plants of the Chihuahuan Desert in the Nature Park - creosote bush (Larrea tridentata), honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), tarbush (Flourensia cernua), and crucifixion thorn (Koeberlinia spinosa). These plants, along with other plants of the Chihuahuan Desert, have developed numerous adaptations that allow them to cope with the extreme temperatures, low water availability, and high solar radiation found in this environment

Roots and leaves of the plants are often specialized for desert conditions. For example, perennial grass roots that are shallow and dense collect water quickly when it rains. Other plants, like honey mesquite, have deep root systems that can tap into longer-term water sources. Since leaves are a primary source of water loss, it is not uncommon to find desert plants with small leaves (e.g., creosote bush) or with leaves so small they look like they have no leaves at all (e.g., crucifixion thorn).

The fishhook barrel cactus (Ferocactus wislizenii) has accordion pleating that allows it to expand and store large quantities of water when it is available. Finally, cacti and some succulents use a special type of photosynthesis that functions only at night when temperatures are lower and humidity is higher, so plants lose less water to evaporation.