Desiccation of plants is often lethal but is tolerated by the majority of seeds and by vegetative tissues of only a small number of land plants. Desiccation tolerance is an ancient trait, lost from vegetative tissues following the appearance of tracheids but reappearing in several lineages when selection pressures favored its evolution. Cells of all desiccation-tolerant plants and seeds must possess a core set of mechanisms to protect them from desiccation- and rehydration-induced damage. This review explores how desiccation generates cell damage and how tolerant cells assuage the complex array of mechanical, structural, metabolic, and chemical stresses and survive.Likewise, the stress of rehydration requires appropriate mitigating cellular responses. We also explore what comparative genomics, both structural and responsive, have added to our understanding of cellular protection mechanisms induced by desiccation, and how vegetative desiccation tolerance circumvents destructive, stress-induced cell senescence.