How Do Palm Trees Survive In The Desert?

If you have recently spent any amount of time in a hot country, you will be aware that palm trees seem to grow in abundance where the weather is dry and warm. Other plants often seem to struggle in this environment – so how do palm trees survive in the desert?

Palm trees cope well with hot environments because they can store water in their trunks and they have wide networks of roots that can capture a lot of rainwater when it falls. They are heat-tolerant and have adapted to withstand the full sun hitting their leaves for hours on end.

How Do Palm Trees Survive In The Desert?

Palm trees have quite a few adaptations that help them to survive well in the desert, including thick trunks that take up plenty of water and wide, matted root networks that can grab rainwater as it falls, before it evaporates from the ground. 

They are also able to reabsorb water from their fruits when periods of drought occur, and they will tolerate ongoing hot sunlight – so let’s explore these adaptations in more detail.

Thick Trunks

Palm tree trunks are fibrous and thick, and they can hold a lot of water. This means that when rainfall does occur, the plant can soak up plenty of water and store it to get itself through periods of drought. The water will remain in the tough trunk and very little will be lost to evaporation.

That said, palm trees do still need water, and they often grow alongside a water source even when they are growing in the desert. You may have seen pictures of oases in children’s books – and this is almost always where a palm tree is to be found.

Here, it can absorb water from the oasis when the rain replenishes it, and will usually have access to all the moisture that it needs, except in periods of extreme drought.

Wide Root Networks

A palm tree’s root network also helps it to absorb plenty of water and ensures it can make the most of rainfall when it comes. Palm trees don’t bother to grow a long, deep taproot that goes far into the ground. Instead, they create a wide net of fine roots that spread out in an almost carpet-like mat from the trunk.

This dense mesh is capable of capturing a lot of water when it falls, ensuring the tree can absorb plenty when the water is available. It can take up a lot of water very fast, which is ideal if the weather is hot and the water will quickly evaporate again.

The root networks of palm trees are unlike the networks created by other kinds of trees. This makes sense, given that palms are actually a kind of giant grass. If you have ever dug up grass in your backyard, you might have some idea of what this enormous version’s roots look like, and why they can grab water so effectively.

Water Reabsorption

A further adaptation helps the palm out when conditions are hard – it can reabsorb water from its fruits if it needs to. If you’ve ever cracked open a coconut, for example, you’ll be aware that quite a lot of water can be contained in one of these, and this will sustain the plant when it is struggling.

The fruit will let it keep its leaves hydrated while it waits for better conditions, and this may get it through a drought.

Sunlight Tolerance

Any plant that is going to grow in the desert needs good sun tolerance, and palm trees have this. Their tough fronds will not be harmed by prolonged exposure to hot sunlight. They will not burn, even after hours in the sun.

This means they are well-suited to deserts and hot climates. They do not cope well in colder climates (although some palms tolerate cold better than others) and are much happier in desert-like or semi-desert conditions.

Wind Tolerance

Palm trees are amazingly good at withstanding strong winds, and this can help them out in the desert, where there is little to shelter them if a gale picks up. Their wide root networks help them to stay anchored in the ground.

They also have very flexible trunks that bend and sway when a strong wind blows, and their serrated foliage does not create much wind resistance. They can usually weather desert storms without an issue.

Where Do Palm Trees Naturally Grow?

There are many different palm trees in the world, so they are native to many different places. One species is native to Arizona, but most are native to Neotropical rainforests in the Americas, so they naturally grow in quite hot climates.

Many palms will struggle with true desert if they don’t have water nearby. They only grow where they can tap into a natural source of water, but as long as they can get enough to drink, they will tolerate the other desert conditions very well.

Should I Grow Palms In My Backyard?

If your backyard has desert-like conditions, you might be wondering whether palm trees would be a good choice. Often, they will be, although it does depend on what sort of atmosphere you are looking for and how much space you have.

They will provide you with some shade and you shouldn’t need to worry about them drying out. They can make your yard feel cooler and pleasanter, but make sure you choose a variety that will not get too tall, as some palms grow extremely tall and may prove difficult to manage in a typical backyard.


Palm trees can grow very well in the desert because they are well-suited to hot, sunny, windy conditions with limited water. Their wide root networks will capture what rainfall there is in a desert, and they can store these supplies in their trunks and fruits while they wait for more. They are also tolerant of hot sun and indeed they need a lot of light to grow.