Plants play a critical role in the ecosystem of White Sands National Monument. They stabilize the leading edges of the dunes and provide both food and shelter for wildlife. Humans too have made extensive use of the dunefield's native plant life, using some for food and others to create things like cloth and medicine. However, it isn't easy eking out a living here in this harsh landscape.
In order to live in the nutrient-poor alkaline soil of the dunefield, the flora here must be tough—only the hardiest plant species of the Chihuahuan Desert grow here. They are drought tolerant and able to survive in temperatures that range from sub-freezing to over 100ºF (38ºC), depending on the season. Many of these plants can tolerate the high soil concentrations of salt present in the monument, while others (known as gypsophiles) absolutely thrive in these conditions.