The pillar‑like leaves of window plants enhance photosynthesis by filtering sunlight down a series of translucent crystals of oxalic acid.

Native to the southern Namib Desert, the window plant grows mainly in plains habitats with sand or gravel. It looks like a series of button-sized disks positioned on top of rod-shaped pillars. These pillars are its leaves. Most of the window plant is buried under the sand or gravel with only the tips of the leaves visible. By staying mostly beneath the ground, the plant can keep cool; in addition, thick and succulent leaves help it store and absorb the limited moisture in the environment. But with most of the plant under the surface, how does it photosynthesize? The window plant is so called because its tips provide a clear window to the leaves in the ground. The tips are flat and translucent, so sunlight can pass straight into the pillars, which each contain a series of transparent crystals of oxalic acid that transmit light through the leaf. Grains of that cover the inside of the leaf capture this light for .

This strategy was co-contributed by EcoRise Youth Innovations

Image: Ivan Boldyrev /

Notice translucent tops of the leaves.

Image: Stan Shebs /

Notice translucence on tops of leaves.

Last Updated April 5, 2019