Plants, as sessile organisms, have evolved a remarkable developmental plasticity to cope with their changing environment. When growing in hostile desert conditions, plants have to grow and thrive in heat and drought. This review discusses how desert plants have adapted their root system architecture (RSA) to cope with scarce water availability and poor nutrient availability in the desert soil. First, we describe how some species can survive by developing deep tap roots to access the groundwater while others produce shallow roots to exploit the short rain seasons and unpredictable rainfalls. Then, we discuss how desert plants have evolved unique developmental programs like having determinate meristems in the case of cacti while forming a branched and compact root system that allows efficient water uptake during wet periods. The remote germination mechanism in date palms is another example of developmental adaptation to survive in the dry and hot desert surface. Date palms have also designed non-gravitropic secondary roots, termed pneumatophores, to maximize water and nutrient uptake. Next, we highlight the distinct anatomical features developed by desert species in response to drought like narrow vessels, high tissue suberization, and air spaces within the root cortex tissue. Finally, we discuss the beneficial impact of the microbiome in promoting root growth in desert conditions and how these characteristics can be exploited to engineer resilient crops with a greater ability to deal with salinity induced by irrigation and with the increasing drought caused by global warming.
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