Adapting Plants to Low Temperatures

Plants are incredibly resilient and adaptable organisms, capable of surviving in a wide variety of climates and ecosystems. While most plants can survive in relatively mild temperatures, some are uniquely adapted to survive even in the coldest temperatures. In this article, we will explore how plants have adapted to low temperatures and the strategies they use to cope with extreme cold.

The Physiology of Cold-Tolerant Plants

Cold-tolerant plants have evolved a variety of physiological adaptations that allow them to survive in frigid temperatures. These adaptations include changes in cell structure and metabolism, as well as modifications to the proteins and lipids that make up the plant’s cell membranes. For example, many cold-tolerant plants have a higher concentration of unsaturated fatty acids in their cell membranes than other plants. This allows them to remain flexible at low temperatures, reducing their risk of freezing.

In addition, cold-tolerant plants tend to produce more protective enzymes which help protect their cells from freezing damage. These enzymes act as antifreezes, preventing ice formation inside the cells and allowing the plant to survive even in very cold temperatures.

Examples of Cold-Tolerant Plants

There are many different species of plants that have adapted to thrive in cold environments. Some examples include:

  • Arctic Poppies: These beautiful flowers are native to the Arctic tundra and can withstand temperatures as low as -40°F (-40°C). They have evolved several unique adaptations that allow them to survive in such extreme conditions, including modified cell membranes that reduce water loss, specialized antifreeze proteins that protect their cells from freezing damage, and thick waxy cuticles on their leaves that prevent dehydration.
  • Mosses: Mosses are one of the hardiest types of plants on earth and can survive even when buried beneath snow for long periods of time. They maintain much lower levels of water than other types of plants and can enter a state of dormancy when temperatures drop too low. This helps them conserve energy during extreme cold spells.
  • Pines: Pine trees are well adapted for life in colder climates due to their thick bark which insulates them from the cold. They also produce special chemicals called terpenes which act as natural antifreezes, protecting their cells from freezing damage.
  • Lichens: Lichens are unique organisms made up of algae and fungi living together. Their composite nature gives them greater resistance to extreme temperatures than single-celled organisms, allowing them to survive even when exposed directly to snow or ice.


Plants have evolved an incredible array of strategies for surviving even the harshest environments. By understanding these strategies, we can better understand how plants adapt and thrive in different climates around the world.