On average, it gets approximately 10 inches of rain per year. Since it is in such a high elevation, most of it moisture comes during the winter snows. Even though there are very dry conditions, there are 411 different species of plants in the cold desert. Out of those, 13 are considered to be sensitive species. .
Many plants living here have adapted over time. The flowering plants will only grow and produce seeds during a year when there is enough water. The seeds will stay dormant until a season with enough moisture in it, which is sometimes years before they can be produced. Other types of plants are those which have adapted to keep plants from losing their water. The sagebrush is a good example of these types of plants. The sagebrush roots can extend up to 90 feet in order to absorb a lot of water, and then store it. The hairy leaves of the sagebrush works as a windbreaker to keep evaporation slowed down. Some other types of water loss are waxy leaves and succulence. The waxy coat acts as a barrier to evaporation by wind. .
In other places of the Great Basin, the soils contain high amounts of salt, and only plants that have adapted can live in these environments, salt-bush and iodine-brush have the ability to survive. Four-winged salt brush excretes salt from its leaves; this process prevents build-up of toxic salts in the plant.
Plants exchange gases, including water, through their leaves by a process called transpiration. The plants in this area can not afford to lose much water from evapotranspiration, and they have developed modified leaves. Mormon tea or joint fir possesses modified leaves, and the leaves are very small and are not the primary area for photosynthesis. .
The plants in the Great Basin have developed ingenious methods in order to deal with the cold desert, dry conditions. Their adaptations have allowed plants to survive and grow in harsh and dangerous conditions, which provides a variety of habitats for the animals that live there.