The narrow, conical shape of these evergreen trees prevents snow from building up on the branches and damaging the trees.
—Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
How do plants survive the icy cold of snow and winter? Unlike animals, which can often leave, hibernate, or otherwise escape a harsh environment, plants cannot. Plants must stay where they are rooted and adapt to the conditions around them. One of the most difficult aspects of cold, wintery places is that most water is frozen, and plants cannot take up ice.
Deciduous plants handle the lack of water by shedding their leaves, which tend to evaporate water into the air. During cold winter months, most deciduous plants drop their leaves and go dormant. Evergreen plants keep their foliage, but their leaves and needles have a thick, waxy coatings to reduce water loss.
In areas that receive frequent snow and may have cold weather year-round, such as in the Arctic, plants have adapted in other ways. Trees may grow close to the ground, or grow in shapes that help them shed heavy snow more easily. Plants may hold onto dead leaves for insulation, or use deep snow like a blanket to protect against the cold. Some evergreens also have a special valve in their cells. This valve automatically seals off individual frozen cells to prevent a chain reaction of freezing.
For more information see Snow Resources.
Education Resources: Online map tools, video, printed, and printable materials. Photographs, animations, and more.
Cryosphere Glossary: Find terms and definitions relating to snow and ice.
Cold Links: Search for Earth system education materials.
Is there fresh snow at the ski hill? Visit NSIDC Scientist Drew Slater's site for SNOTEL station snow data in the Western U.S., updated hourly.