We studied the growth status and photosynthetic characteristics of four kinds of woody plants, Idesia polycarpa, Morus alba, Sapindus mukurossi and Gleditsia sinensis, that were planted in the rocky and desertified area. 1) According to the growth indexes, such as survival rate, plant height growth rate, base diameter growth rate, dry root weight and root/shoot ratio, the growth status of M. alba was the best, followed by I. polycarpa and S. mukurossi, and G. sinensis in the last place. 2) The photosynthetic capabilities of M. alba and I. polycarpa were stronger that those of S. mukurossi and G. sinensis. As for the water use efficiency, S. mukurossi was the highest, followed by M. alba and G. sinensis, and, in the last place, I. polycarpa. 3) I. polycarpa, M. alba and G. sinensis showed the similar maximum net photosynthetic rate, about 15 μmol/(m2·s), which was 50% higher than that of S. mukurossi. The order of apparent quantum yield of the four plants, arranged from high to low, was M. alba, G. sinensis, S. mukurossi and I. polycarpa. The order of dark respiration rate, from high to low, was M. alba, S. mukurossi, G. sinensis and I. polycarpa. The light compensation point followed an order from high to low as S. mukurossi, G. sinensis I. polycarpa and M. alba, while the order of light saturation point was I. polycarpa, M. alba, G. sinensis and S. mukurossi. By comparing the growth status and photosynthetic characteristics of the four plants in the rocky and desertified area, we conclude that their adaptability to the environment follows the order from strong to weak as M. alba, S. mukurossi, I. polycarpa and G. sinensis.