So I’m creating a world where the ground is mainly made of different rocks and stone in most areas - soil is sparse.

Could trees and plant life grow on the stone ground if a water source is nearby? eg. If the rocks are permeable could plantlife grow?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ They already do. Banyan seeds need only a crack to rest in $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Jan 22, 2019 at 17:26
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ well, yes. mosses and lichen would probably grow first, then after a thin layer of soil is formed other plants could easily take root. for example, some orchids fare well in rocky, nutrient-poor soil by stealing nutrients from other plants. cacti, mosses, and other desert plants also do well in rocky environments (see rock gardens). alpine conifers are also often seen growing straight out of mountainsides. from there, breaking down the rocks into soil is just a matter of time. $\endgroup$
    – Aureminate
    Jan 22, 2019 at 17:44
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ The thing is, if you have water and plants, you won't have just rock for very long (in geological timescales, anyway). Consider the northeastern US & Canada, which was basically scraped down to bare rock during the last Ice Age. Mostly covered with plants growing in soil, nowadays. Plant roots break down rock (along with weathering), dead plants decay and add organic matter, and you get soil. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jan 22, 2019 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf is right here. We have soil because of plants. $\endgroup$
    – Gimelist
    Jan 23, 2019 at 8:10

3 Answers 3


Yes, there are plants which are specialized in growing in harsh terrains.

Take the caper: I have seen plants of this species growing onto walls, rocky cliffs above the sea and other conditions where soil was scarce.

capers plant growing on walls

Their root can propagate through rocks searching for water, and can survive with very little water.

Like this one there are other plants which are adapted to harsh conditions and scarce soil. Look for example at most of the plants growing in the maquis shrubland.



Lichens are notorious for being able to grow on bare rock; they are often considered pioneering organisms, able to colonize bare rock and, in time, create enough soil to enable the growth of plants. But the lichens themselves are not plants, they are "composite organism that arises from algae or cyanobacteria living among filaments of multiple fungi species in a mutualistic relationship (Wikipedia).

Lythophytes and psammophytes

Lithophytes ("rock plants" in Greek) are plants that grow in or on rocks. Those that grow on rocks are also known as epipetric or epilithic plants. Lithophytes that grow on land feed off nutrients from rain water and nearby decaying plants, including their own dead tissue. Chasmophytes grow in fissures in rocks where soil or organic matter has accumulated.

Examples of lithophytes include several Paphiopedilum orchids, ferns, many algae and liverworts. Species that only grow on rock or gravel are obligate lithophytes. Species that grow on rocky substrate and elsewhere are facultative lithophytes.

(Wikipedia, s.v. Lythophyte)

Nepenthes sp. from Raja Ampat, New Guinea

A Nepenthes plant growing as a lythophyte in Raja Ampat, New Guinea. Photograph by Alfindra Primaldhi, available on Wikimedia under the CC BY 2.0 license.

Plants which grow on sand are called psammophytes (that's "sand plants" in Greek). Sand is finely divided rock. There are many many psammophile ("sand loving" in Greek) plants, for example:

  • Ammophila arenaria, marram grass. It is native to the coastlines of Europe and North Africa where it grows in the sands of beach dunes. It is a perennial grass forming stiff, hardy clumps of erect stems up to 1.2 metres (3.9 ft) in height. (Wikipedia)

    Ammophila arenaria

    Ammophila arenaria in Grenen, Denmark. Photograph by Malene Thyssen, available on Wikimedia under the GNU Free Documentation license, version 1.2 or later.

  • Populus euphratica, the desert poplar. It is a medium-sized deciduous tree that may grow to a height of about 15 m and a girth of 2.5 m (8.2 ft) where conditions are favourable. The stem is typically bent and forked; old stems have thick, rough, olive-green bark. The species has a very wide range, occurring naturally from North Africa, across the Middle East and Central Asia to western China.

  • And, of course, how could I not mention my favorite psammophiles, the salt cedars, Tamarix.

    Salt cedars are evergreen or deciduous shrubs or trees growing to 1–18 m in height and forming dense thickets. The largest, Tamarix aphylla, is an evergreen tree that can grow to 18 m tall. The leaves are scale-like, almost like that of junipers, 1–2 mm long, and overlap each other along the stem. They are often encrusted with salt secretions. Tamarix species are fire-adapted, and have long tap roots that allow them to intercept deep water tables and exploit natural water resources. They are able to limit competition from other plants by taking up salt from deep ground water, accumulating it in their foliage, and from there depositing it in the surface soil where it builds up concentrations temporarily detrimental to some plants. (Wikipedia, s.v. Tamarix)

    Tamarix aphylla

    Tamarix aphylla in Algeria. Photograph by Anthere, available on Wikimedia under the GNU Free Documentation License, version 1.2 or later.


Airplants because of their natural propensity to cling wherever conditions permit: telephone wires, tree branches, barks, bare rocks, etc.


Air plant Tillandsia growing on rocks enter image description here


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .