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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Saturday - June 23, 2007

From: London, Other
Region: Other
Topic: General Botany
Title: Where do plants grow?
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Where do plants grow?

ANSWER:

Plants grow everywhere. They grow on land, in the ocean, in lakes and rivers, on mountain tops, and in the desert. Even Antarctica, perhaps the harshest climate in the world, has two flowering plants. Pearlwort (Colobanthus quitensis) and Antarctic hairgrass (Deschampsia antarctica). In the polar regions (Arctic and Antarctic) the growing season is very short, less than three months, and limited to when the soil warms enough to thaw. The predominant plants are grasses and sedges and most plants remain very short, usually less than one foot or 20 cm. One of the Antarctic plants, Deschampsia antarctica, has adapted to its harsh environment by producing antifreeze proteins.

Deserts also have flowering plants. Many of the desert plants have special adaptations to survive long periods without water. One of the major adaptations is to have a small surface area to reduce water loss. Desert plants tend to have small leaves that are thick and waxy, or no leaves at all. Succulent desert plants, such as the cacti, are able to store water in their thick stems.

Plants grow in the mountains at very high elevations such as in the Himalayas in Nepal Mosses and lichens are found as high as 6300 meters (~20,600 feet). The vascular plant Stellaria decumbens, has been found growing in mats at 6100 m (~20,000 feet). Not only do they have to contend with cold temperatures and short growing seasons, but they also have to deal with increased levels of UV light because of the thin atmosphere. Many of them have a red pigment, anthocyanin, that helps protect them from the high levels of UV light.

 

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