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How Long Can Plants Survive Without Water? The Evolving Science of Drying & Saving Plants

If you’ve ever had to water your plants more frequently than you’d like, you know the value of a well-watered garden. Fortunately, most plants enjoy regular moisture. However, those who grow perennials understand that no plant is going to last forever. Many plants are capable of storing water in their leaves and stems, effectively allowing them to survive for months without soil or other liquid in which to grow. Others have developed special adaptations to extend their time with little care, too. Even so, not all plants can tolerate prolonged periods of dehydration—and not all dry spells are created equal either. That’s because there are many different kinds of drought: wet-, semi-wet and dry. The amount of time necessary for a plant to recover from such stress varies according to the type of stress and the individual species in question.

What is drought?

The main cause of plant stress is a lack of water. Drought results when a plant’s access to water is restricted. This can be due to either a lack of water in the air or a perceived lack of water in the soil. In either case, a plant will attempt to ‘water’ itself by expanding its leaves to take up as much water as it can. Unfortunately, it will often expand its leaves too far, which can cause the leaves to crumple and die. If a plant does not have access to water for an extended period of time, whatever is inside the plant will soon die as well.

Wet-Dry Balance

When plants are not getting enough water, they start to suffer a condition known as stress. During a drought, the leaves of a plant will begin to dry out and lose colour. At the same time, the roots will seek out water, expanding and sending up new shoots or branches outside the plant’s main stem. The leaves of a plant in this condition are known as stressed leaves. The plant will eventually be unable to recover, and wilts to death.

Semi-Wet Balance

When a plant is not getting enough water, it will resort to reducing the amount of water in its leaves. This means that the leaves of the plant are not completely dry, but they are not fully wet either. This condition is known as semi-wet. Semi-wet is a better condition for the plant’s roots than totally wet, but it’s not ideal for the leaves. Semi-wet conditions are usually temporary and will eventually lead to wet or dry conditions. Semi-wet plants will stay semi-wet until adequate water is available again.

Dry Balance

When a plant doesn’t have access to water for an extended period of time, it will start to die. This condition is known as dry. Dry plants often have browned leaves, which is the result of the plant’s attempt to reduce water loss. Dry plants need to be watered to survive.

Which plants can recover from drought?

Plants that can survive dry conditions without damage include cacti, succulents and many desert plants. These are plants that are adapted to long periods with little or no water. Others can survive dry spells, albeit with damage. These plants include some species of grass, yews and willows. Ginseng, many orchids and African violets can survive with little or no water as well. One of the most resilient plants is the desert fan palm, which can go for months without water. Yet, palm seeds can remain viable for more than a year in dry soil.

What determines how long a plant can survive without water?

This depends on the species in question. Many plants have a natural tolerance for extremely low soil moisture, so they can survive many months without any. Others may be able to withstand dry conditions for a few weeks. However, all plants can be damaged by long periods of drought.

Conclusion

Plants need water to survive. Not having enough water can be damaging to plants and can even kill them if the lack of water is too long. Luckily, most plants can tolerate short periods of dryness, though some can go for several months without getting any water. There are also plants that can go for years without getting any water. These are called drought tolerant plants. How long a plant can go without water depends on the specific species.

Jaxson henry
Jaxson henry
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