Plants That Grow in the Sahara Desert

Updated April 17, 2017

The Sahara Desert covers much of North Africa. It stretches from the Red Sea in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west and runs southward to the Sahel savannah. Its terrain includes mountains, rocky plateaus, gravelly plains and sand dunes. Fertile areas, called oases, radiate throughout this barren landscape. The Sahara has a hot, dry climate with little precipitation. It is hot during the day but cool at night. A variety of plants that Saharan inhabitants use for many purposes thrive in this desert environment.

Olive Tree

The olive tree is a commercially important plant that grows in many places along the Nile River in North Africa. People cultivate this tree for its oil, which is used in cooking, and edible fruit. A native of the Sahara, the olive tree is able to survive in the hot, dry climate because its small leaves have a protective coating that slows water loss.

Date Palm

A native of North Africa, the date palm provides a food source for local inhabitants and a commercial crop as well. People use dates, a sugary fruit, to make syrup, vinegar and alcohol. They use the tree's leaves to make furniture and baskets. This tree has deep roots and grows well in poor soil. It requires bright light, which is abundant during the day in the Sahara. The date palm usually grows in the numerous oases throughout the desert region.

Doum Palm

Considered sacred by the ancient Egyptians, the doum palm tree is native to Upper Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania and Sudan. It thrives in the Nile region. This versatile tree has various uses. The doum palm produces an edible, red-orange fruit that tastes like gingerbread. Natives use the fruit's hard, white nut to make buttons and grind it down to dress wounds. They make molasses with the fruit's rind and paper and mats with the tree's leaves.

Red Acacia

The red acacia tree thrives in the desert environment. It typically grows in areas of the Sahara that receive at least 1 inch of rainfall a year. The tree blooms with yellow or white, fuzzy flowers. The tree's feathery leaves protect the bark from the dry winds of the desert. The bark produces tanin, which is used in tanning leather.

African Peyote Cactus

The African peyote cactus thrives in the desert environment. Its thick stems retain water for long periods of time, and its spiny leaves help prevent water loss because of evaporation. Native Saharan tribes use peyote from this plant in their spiritual rituals.


A sedge grass, papyrus is native to the lakes and rivers of North Africa. It grows in abundance along the Nile River. Papyrus grows in great masses in shallow water and wet soils, where it matures and spreads rapidly. Ancient Egyptians used this grass to make paper. Many people today often use it as an ornamental plant.


This herb flourishes in the dry soil of the Sahara Desert. It provides a food source for local animal life. Residents of the desert also use it as a spice in their food. They also cultivate thyme, a popular cooking ingredient, for commercial purposes.

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About the Author

Marci Sothern has written as a tutor in the academic field since 1999. She holds a bachelor's degree in history and a master's degree in political science from the University of Texas at Tyler. Her main areas of expertise include American history, comparative politics, international relations and political theory.