The leaf surfaces of the salt-excreting tree Tamarix aphylla harbor a wide diversity of halophilic microorganisms, including Halomonas sp., but little is known of the factors that shape community composition in this extreme habitat. We isolated a strain of Halomonas variabilis from the leaf surface of T. aphylla and used it to determine the heterogeneity of salt concentrations experienced by bacteria in this environment. This halophilic strain was transformed with a proU::gfp reporter gene fusion, the fluorescence of which was responsive to NaCl concentrations up to 200 g liter-1. These bioreporting cells were applied to T. aphylla leaves and were subsequently recovered from dew droplets adhering to the leaf surface. Although cells from within a given dew droplet exhibited similar green fluorescent protein fluorescence, the fluorescence intensity varied between droplets and was correlated with the salt concentration measured in each drop. Growth of H. variabilis was observed in all droplets, regardless of the salt concentration. However, cells found in desiccated microniches between dew drops were low in abundance and generally dead. Other bacteria recovered from T. aphylla displayed higher desiccation tolerance than H. variabilis, both in culture and on inoculated plants, despite having lower osmotic tolerance. Thus, the Tamarix leaf surface can be described as a salty desert with occasional oases where water droplets form under humid conditions. While halotolerant bacteria such as Halomonas grow in high concentrations of salt in such wet microniches, other organisms are better suited to survive desiccation in sites that are not wetted.