Xerophytes - Definition, Types and Examples

By Matthew Nesbitt, Writer and researcher. January 8, 2023
Xerophytes - Definition, Types and Examples

Even if you have never heard the term, you will likely know of different xerophytic plants. Also known as xerophytes, these plants are drought resistant and can be found all over the world. Perhaps the most well known are different type of cacti, although there are many other different types of xerophytic plants. They are relatively undemanding which means various species of xerophyte can be found in homes and gardens across the world. They may even be great starter plants for children or those who are just starting on their gardening journey, but even the most experienced horticulturalists love taking care of these plants.

At thedailyECO, we take a closer look at xerophytes. We discover the definition of xerophytic plants, as well as see different types and examples of xerophytes in nature.

You may also be interested in: Bryophytes - Definition, Types and Examples

What are xerophytic plants?

The etymology of the word xerophyte derives from the Greek words phuton which means ‘plant’ and xeros which means ‘dry’. This is because the definition of xerophyte is:

A plant which needs very little water.

For a plant to survive with very little water, it is necessary for them to have certain physiological and morphological adaptations. It is for this reason, many xerophytic plants share certain characteristics, especially in their leaves, stems and roots. It is these parts of the plant which are used mainly for transportation and storage of water.

Generally speaking, xerophytics plants have long roots and small leaves with few pores. There are some which also present thorns. Thanks to the modifications of these parts of the plant, they are capable of absorbing and retaining water for long periods of time. Such adaptations allow them to survive, even in extreme climates.

The different physical characteristics of xerophytes are described as being xeromorphic. For this reason, many refer to xerophytes as xeromorphic plants. This helps us to look at the different types of xerophytic plants according to their xeromorphic features:

Spiny xerophytes

The best example of this type of xerophytic plants are those belonging to the Cactaceae family, commonly known as cacti. These are covered by thorns both on the stem and on their leaves.

Succulent xerophytes

This type of xerophytic plants stands out for having fleshy leaves capable of storing liquids such as water or latex. They generally have a wide stem and wide leaves, as in the case of plants belonging to the Crassulaceae family, also known as stonecrop plants. Succulent plants are among the most resistant to long periods of drought and are usually also a source of food and water for other animals in the environment, including humans.

Xerophytes with coiled and toothed leaves

Most of the plants belonging to this group are of the shrub type. Their leaves are hard, toothed (dentate) and dark green on the upper side and gray on the underside.

Xerophytes with hair and leaf wax

Typical of the Mediterranean climate, they stand out for the presence of a gray hair (ciliate) that completely covers their leaves. Clear examples of this type of xerophyte are some of the best-known aromatic plants such as sage, lavender or rosemary. In addition, one of its main advantages is that thanks to the adaptation of its leaves, they are able to reduce the loss of water produced by the transpiration process. In doing so, they are able to keep the temperature of the plant stable throughout the year.

Learn about other categories of plant with our article on types of cryptogamic plants.

Xerophytes with multiple stomata

Within this group are the Lithops, also known as pebble plants or living stones. They comprise a genus of succulent plants with more than 100 species. Despite having few leaves, these manage to survive thanks to their number of stomata that remain closed while waiting for rain or necessary humidity. Stomata are pores which control the rate of gas exchange.

Xerophytes with deep roots

Here we find mostly trees with a strong root system, which are longer and thicker than most. Thanks to these roots, the plant manages to collect and retain the water that is stored in the subsoil in order to survive long periods of drought or grow in semi-desert areas.

Due to their often beautiful appearance, many xeromorphic plants are considered very beautiful. See some more examples with our guide to ornamental plants.

Xerophytes - Definition, Types and Examples - What are xerophytic plants?

Characteristics of xerophytic plants

These are the characteristics of the most common xerophytic plants:

  • The main characteristic of xerophytic plants is that they are plants that have evolved to conserve the water they need for optimal growth and development in extreme weather conditions.

  • These plants have a thick epidermis and leaves made up of a large number of stomata to favor the process of photosynthesis due to the lack of rain. Learn more about a key element of photosynthesis with our article on the different types of chlorophyll.

  • It has not yet been completely proven that the appearance of thorns or modification of their leaves is one of the adaptations of xerophytic plants to avoid evapotranspiration, but it is thought they may be useful for this process.

  • Xerophytic plants have also known how to adapt to excesses of light and lack of nutrients. Despite growing under these conditions and even when with extreme temperatures, they are usually very appetizing for other animals thanks to their nutritional composition.

Examples of xerophytic plants

Next, we offer you a list with some names of xerophytic plants that, quite possibly, you have at home, in your garden, in one of the green areas of your city. Maybe some of them will surprise you:

xerophytic trees

  • Acacia (Acacia spp.)
  • Mediterranean cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)
  • Crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)
  • Kurrajong (Brachychiton populneus)
  • Holm oak (Quercus ilex)
  • Pomegranate (Punica granatum)
  • Fig (Ficus carica)
  • Olive (Olea europea)
  • Spanish juniper (Juniperus thurifera)

Find out about the native regions of some trees with our guide to the different types of forests.


  • European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis)
  • Date palm (Phoenix dactilifera)

Xeric shrubs

  • Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo)
  • Lavender (Lavandula)
  • True myrtle (Myrtus communis)
  • Oleander (Nerium oleander)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
  • Cassava (Manihot esculenta)

succulents or succulents

  • Agave (Agave lechuguilla)
  • Blue agave (Agave tequilana)
  • Fynbos aloe (Aloe succotrina)
  • Aloe vera (Aloe vera)
  • Prickly pear (Opuntia)

Some of these plants are known for their various uses, including those used in cooking. Find out more with our list of aromatic plant species.

Xerophytes - Definition, Types and Examples - Examples of xerophytic plants

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