Desert plants have developed mechanisms for adapting to hostile desert conditions, yet these mechanisms remain poorly understood. Here, we describe two unique modes used by desert date palms (Phoenix dactylifera L.) to protect their meristematic tissues during early organogenesis. We used X-ray micro-computed tomography combined with high-resolution tissue imaging to reveal that, after germination, development of the embryo pauses while it remains inside a dividing and growing cotyledonary petiole. Transcriptomic and hormone analyses show that this developmental arrest is associated with the low expression of development-related genes and accumulation of hormones that promote dormancy and confer resistance to stress. Furthermore, organ-specific cell type mapping demonstrates that organogenesis occurs inside the cotyledonary petiole, with identifiable root and shoot meristems and their respective stem cells. The plant body emerges from the surrounding tissues with developed leaves and a complex root system that maximizes efficient nutrient and water uptake. We further show that, similar to its role in Arabidopsis thaliana, the SHORT-ROOT (SHR) homologue from date palms functions in maintaining stem cell activity and promoting formative divisions in the root ground tissue. Our findings provide insight into developmental programs that confer adaptive advantages in desert plants that thrive in hostile habitats.